Amanda Huffman is an Air Force veteran and spouse and host of the "Women of the Military" podcast.
After the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a campaign was launched to bring awareness, not only Vanessa's case, but also to stories of sexual harassment and assault among other military women.
The Justice for Vanessa effort is working to change laws within the military to help protect women. In July it grew into a movement calling out Vanessa's chain of command; contacting politicians to demand change; spreading a petition to shut down Fort Hood, Texas, where her murder occurred; and asking women to boycott enlisting in the military.
As a female veteran who advocates on behalf of both women who are still serving and those who have left the military, I do not support an enlistment boycott as a path to change. Instead, we must step up more than ever before to act for change.
When women boycott military service, the military misses out on an important group that can make positive changes. The military needs women more than it realizes, even as women break down barriers and open doors for those who follow in their footsteps.
The United States military needs women to make our force stronger. Women and men are different in their leadership qualities and how they solve problems.
And one of the most positive changes in the most recent wars has been the military recognizing how important servicewomen are to winning the fight. Although serving in the military as a woman continues to be a challenge, boycotting service isn't the answer. If we stop serving, it only makes the military weaker.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn't be doing more to protect women in the military. Guillen's case and the #iamvanessaguillen campaign that followed highlighted what women have known for years: military sexual harassment and assault is a real problem.
The military needs to make changes. We can start from the moment women decide to join the service by giving them a place where they can reach out for help.
Programs like Veterati have been created to help people transition out of the military. But is there a way to help people transition INTO the military? A way to connect those entering the service with those who have either left the service or are farther along in their military career?
Such a program would benefit both male and female service members. It would be invaluable to have someone who has experienced a situation and likely knows more people or resources to help you through your military career. And it could also help the helpers: veterans struggling with finding purpose after leaving the military could gain a new mission in the chance to support and mentor those following in their footsteps.
One of the reasons I created the "Women of the Military" podcast was to provide a place for women to share their stories in hopes of equipping those considering service. Many of my listeners are women who are looking to join the military. Through the podcast, I give women an open invitation to contact me so that I can connect them with other female veterans -- women who can not only help them in their career choices but also in the challenges that come with military life.
As a strong advocate for military service, I want to do more to help more women, which is why I am writing a book for those who are considering joining the military. It is a guide to help them as they make a choice on how to serve, what career to pick and what branch to join. I hope to give women answers to questions I had or didn't even know to ask in the first place.
This is what the way forward looks like -- not boycotting service but providing support and encouragement. We need an upfront awareness of problems and resources, and mentors to help.
Joining the military changed my life. It gave me confidence and a community I was searching for, and changed my life story. I faced a number of challenges and have many stories of when I was lucky not to be another statistic in military sexual assault. And I realize that, if I had known how close to danger I was and had been told the realities of these dangers, I could have better protected myself.
I know that not all cases can be avoided. It is unfortunate that this danger is something women may face. But one of the biggest challenges is how they are treated by leadership and co-workers after the event takes place. When leaders blame the victims and protect the perpetrator, it creates an unsafe environment. That is why it is important to educate and mentor women who are serving, and to change laws and the culture within the military.
It is a two-sided balancing act where we protect and empower women, but also change the way things have been done. Safeguards to protect victims must be put into place, and watchdogs must ensure leadership does not continue business as usual.
And as women and men unite to make change happen, the military and our country will be better for it.
-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to email@example.com for consideration.