Female vet overcomes challenges

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – When the word veteran is uttered, more than likely, people’s thoughts go to the men who served our county in one branch or the other. What many of us might not think of is the women who also served.

Anyone looking at St. Clairsville resident Lacey Shanks may not associate her with the word veteran, but in fact she served for eight years in the military. Among those eight years includes two tours of duty in Iraq.

What began as a way to pay for college, also began one of the hardest yet most rewarding challenges at that time in her life, not because she was serving in general, but because of the different standards that are set for women in the army.

“It’s tough, it’s definitely a challenge, you can’t be thin-skinned by any means and you kind of have to be bull people over because they will try to push you around, (women) are definitely the minority,” said Shanks. “You are definitely at a disadvantage and it takes a lot more work to prove yourself because they hold you to different standards.”

Shanks said that the biggest challenge was beginning in a military police unit, prior to that they were an infantry unit and it was all men, no women.

“So when I came in as a woman as part of the MP unit, they were not very receptive to having females around because they weren’t use to it and they definitely didn’t treat you well at all,” said Shanks. “They did warm up to it after they realized I wasn’t going anywhere and I kind of had like a sit down with my group, because I worked with a lot of mechanics.”

In that sit down, Shanks informed them that she was not going anywhere.

“(This experience) taught me a lot. It taught me to be independent, I spent a lot of time away from home and I learned that they became my family and I have made some friendships that I will never ever be able to replace,” said Shanks. “Since I have joined, some of my family has also joined and it has made us have a closer kinship.”

Shanks said that the first time she was deployed to Iraq, she was terrified.

“I was 21, getting ready to turn 22, I was scared to death and I had no idea what to expect. But at the same time I thought in the back of my head that if I went and did this then my sister and brother won’t have to do it later and there are people who have wives, have kids, have husbands that they don’t have to leave their family,” said Shanks, who is a month away from having her first child. “I was a single soldier. I had a family, but I didn’t have a family of my own. As a single person, I would rather go and do that and let a kid keep their mom.”

One of the most surprising things for Shanks was the culture shock and that there were more people who wanted to kill then have our help and wanted us to be there.

After two tours in Iraq, Shanks took her honorable discharge in November of 2010. Since leaving, she has joined the American Legion in St. Clairsville. In the beginning, she was in both the Ladies Auxiliary and a Legionnaire, but now she is just a Legionnaire. Beginning a Legionnaire, especially an adjutant, Shanks has met many of the familiar challenges she has met before but quickly they warmed up to the idea. Many have realized she and others like her who have served are the new faces of veterans.

“You probably run into more veterans in a days time then you probably realize because everyone has this stereotype about what they look like. They are all Vietnam aged or older men. I have ran into more than one,” said Shanks. “I don’t do it for the attention. I am a veteran, that’s just part of me, but it’s not what I am. But it is nice to bring awareness to people that don’t really think I am.”

One of the things Shanks wanted to stress was the importance of saying thank you.

“If you know that someone is a veteran … it’s important, especially to the Vietnam era veterans, they need to hear thank you. We don’t do it for recognition, a majority of us don’t think we are heroes because we are not the heroes, the heroes didn’t come home, we came home,” said Shank. “I think it is important that people recognized that veterans do come in all shapes in sizes and we all appreciate a thank you now and then.”

Van Dyne can be reached at kvandyne@timesleaderonline.com.