Female veterans talk about breaking limits, life in the service

By MARILYN MILLER | Akron Beacon Journal (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 16, 2017

Female veterans on the University of Akron’s campus engaged students Wednesday with stories about why they joined the service and how it ended up being the best choice in life for them.

“I was in college and getting good grades, but something was missing. I needed some direction in my life. I felt like I was just going through the motions and I really wanted to do more,” said Anna Friske, 28, who was in the Army Reserves from 2009 to 2016.

“My sister, who is 18 months older, was in the service and seemed to have it together. So I followed in her footsteps.”

Friske went through combat medics school and the licensed practical nurse program in the service. She’s currently attending the University of Akron for her bachelor’s degree in biology and plans to attend medical school.

“It showed me exactly who I could be and gave me a level of determination,” she said. “I learned to test my limits and then to make new ones — and then break those.”

As part of Women’s History Month, the veterans, who are also students or employees at the university, took part in a panel discussion answering questions that ranged from women in combat to the nude online photo scandal of female Marines.

“There’s always been this stigma from civilians that women are mistreated and disrespected in the military or not seen as being on the same playing field,” said Sgt. Sabrina Ekmark, a recruiter for the Ohio National Guard, which has its UA campus office in Shrank Hall.

“During my deployment, I found that to be completely incorrect. I was the only woman in my platoon and the guys literally became like my brothers. They wanted to protect me and I wanted to protect them. I was the medic. I carried myself in a professional way — no flirting. And they fed off that. And in turn, they respected me.”

She said she joined the military after 9/11 motivated her to get involved. She is married to a civilian. They have one daughter.

Working for respect

Friske said many times women — who make up 15 percent of the U.S. military — are harder on each other than the men.

“We do work for the respect, and we want that respect to continue on for other women who serve. But I do think there’s an additional layer for a lot of women wanting to prove they deserve to be there as much as anyone else,” she said.

Although a 2013 Defense Department directive “officially” opened the door for women in combat, retired Sgt. Jamie McKay had already been in combat during her four deployments — Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan twice.

She served in the Army from 2001 to 2014 as a combat medic.

The other veterans referred to her as “a big deal” because she received six combat medical badges, given to those who treat patients under direct contact — not everyone deployed gets one.

“I recall a mass casualty in Afghanistan where two bicycle bombs injured 42 children and two adults. They came to the hospital in waves of threes and fives,” she said.

“We treated them inside and outside the hospital and we didn’t lose a single patient.”

McKay, 35, became a medic to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and to pursue her passion for helping others; she is majoring in nursing.

She is married and has two children.

Scholarship winner

Ashley Gorbulja, 23, commander of Post 808, received the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Legacy Scholarship for the third year in a row and accepted it on March 8 at the Capitol in Washington.

She was in the ROTC and became a noncommissioned officer. She turned to the service for a debt-free education after seeing her father cry because he couldn’t afford to send her to college because of the recession. She has two younger brothers and has been a role model for them.

She graduated from UA with a bachelor’s degree in both physical education and organizational supervision with a minor in psychology and is pursuing a master’s degree in public health. Her dream is to become not just an officer one day, but also a general in the Army.

Kelly Kulick, 61, was in the Air Force in 1974 for 1½ years. She was under contract to go to nursing training. After basic training she was a secretary to a master sergeant waiting for the transfer, but when she couldn’t get into the program, she accepted an honorable discharge. She is currently the director of the Office of Accessibility at UA and helps veterans transition from military to student and civilian life.

Determined mind

As the youngest child in her family with three brothers, Lance Cpl. Anne Kramer, 20, of the Marine Corps Reserves, was always in competition with the closest brother in age.

She is a first lieutenant in the Army, has a business degree from Ohio State University and is in the 82nd Airborne, stationed in North Carolina. At boot camp, she received the Molly Marine Award and the Company Fitness Award. She is majoring in business and marketing.

“Having someone who is strong-minded and determined has made such a difference to me,” she said. “My brother was a good role model. In my work setting I just try to hold myself to a standard so no one can give any doubt to my intentions or professionalism.”

©2017 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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