While women are not often the faces of the military, one local mother-daughter duo is breaking stereotypes and making military service a family tradition, one they hope will continue for generations to come. “I was inspired to serve because I wanted to see the world and get a higher education,” reflected Nicole White, who served for over 20 years in the Air Force as a financial management and services noncommissioned officer. “During my service, I traveled to many parts of the world, and deployed to Iraq in 2011 to assist with the drawdown of troops in the region.” Nicole also taught for five years at an airman leadership school, which prepares airmen for NCO supervisory duties.
White retired in 2013, the same year her daughter graduated from high school. Little did she know that her daughter, Alexis Hunter, would go on to serve in the Army National Guard for eight years as a logistics specialist, offering air and ground support. “I was inspired to join the military because of my mom,” Hunter shared, “and my personal desire to challenge myself to become a part of something bigger than myself. I feel a special connection with my mom with our shared experiences in the military because she helped me to navigate any hurdles that came up and guided me on how to become a better woman and leader.”
Hunter following in her mom’s footsteps has forged a unique bond between the two that White deeply appreciates. “My daughter and I have a deeper understanding of what it means to serve our country,” she said. “We can share the battles and victories we have had as women serving. Also, there is a friendly Air Force-Army rivalry.”
While the U.S. Department of Defense reports that over 3 million women have served in or with the armed forces since the American Revolution, there are still misconceptions about what women can accomplish in the military. One common misjudgment, according to White, is that women are not fit for combat or high level leadership positions. She responded to this by saying, “We are not emotional and incapable of taking control of a situation. When it comes to leadership, women are equally intelligent and mentally strong.” Her daughter chimed in saying, “Where women are involved and leading, there will be as much meaningful leadership, camaraderie and support any other leader is capable of achieving.”
Another common myth about being a woman in the military is that you must sacrifice your femininity. White reassured, “Our femininity makes us better all-around leaders, and it is not lost when serving in the military.”
This is why Brooke Jackson Kahn, PA-C U.S. Army Combat Veteran founded the Charleston-based nonprofit organization She’s the Veteran to raise awareness of the millions of women who have served in the U.S. military. Jackson and her team work with female veterans to improve mental health through programmatic activities, provide a supportive community and spearhead research efforts.
“I got involved with She’s the Veteran when I attended their 2nd annual June celebration,” White said. “I learned more about the purpose to improve mental health and build community and knew I wanted to be involved. I love that the organization recognizes and supports the contribution of women veterans, acknowledges the need for mental health services and seeks to build a community of women supporting each other. It doesn’t matter if you served 20 years or two years; your contribution matters.”
Looking ahead, White and Hunter would both love to pass down their legacy to daughters and granddaughters to come. “I would love for future generations of women in our family to serve in the military,” White shared. “It has so many benefits and you are a part of something greater than yourself. You learn teamwork, leadership, self discipline and so much more. I often state that I think everyone should at least have to do two years.”
Hunter agreed, stating, “Serving in the military helped me grow as a person and changed my life for the better. My mother inspired me with her 20 years of service and I hope I can do the same for my future daughter.”
To Charleston women who are contemplating a career move into the military, White has this to say: “Do your research on the job you want to perform to ensure you know what it entails. You really can’t beat the benefits and camaraderie. If you want to be a part of protecting our country and the freedoms we enjoy, serve. You will become a part of a lifelong community of those who volunteered to serve and served honorably.”
For Hunter, serving in the military has been the most valuable investment, not only in her country, but also in herself. “If you want to know how you can become the best version of yourself, push yourself past your limits, evolve your leadership skills and strengthen your self-confidence, then the military is the right fit for you. Do it for your future you.”
Learn more about ways to support other female veterans through She’s the Veteran by visiting their website at ShesTheVeteran.org.
By Heather Rose Artushin