Freedom. Equality. Opportunity. Despite the state of the political climate at any given moment, American culture and identity are built on these ideals that inspire Americans, some of whom are brave enough to defend these values with their lives. Sevrine Banks is no exception to these values, evident from her service in the military for several years and her dignified position at the point of her retirement from service. Even after her time serving in the military, Sevrine is an active participant in the veteran community of Sacramento, making efforts to connect with and support other female veterans, especially with her work at the Women Veteran Alliance. Sevrine’s experiences as a female soldier and veteran represent many American women, who face the additional challenges of serving in a male-dominated institution as well as the universal experiences of serving in the military. Her story is one of dedication and service that acts as an example to young women hoping to serve their country.
Coming from a unique military background, Sevrine’s father was drafted during the Vietnam War and ended up serving for several years afterward. As her mother was from Belgium, Sevrine was raised there after moving to Germany at 3 years old. After graduating from high school and feeling that continuing her education wasn’t right for her at the time, Sevrine decided to join the army. Starting at an entry-level, or “E1”, position, Sevrine went through several weeks of training before going on to become a combat medic, where she completed four additional months of training to care for people on the battlefield and was positioned in Germany. Sevrine explained to our Queen Bee representative that the system “is built for [one] to promote if [they are] motivated”. As Sevrine herself is one of these motivated individuals, she quickly went up in ranks, advancing her knowledge of the inner-workings of the army and taking on additional responsibilities as she progressed. Although she officially retired as a level E7 soldier, Sevrine acted as a working E8 level soldier due to her dedication and motivation, serving to the best of her ability at all times.
Being a soldier has its own trials; being a female soldier introduces a new set of obstacles within the rankings of the military. Sevrine describes the progress that’s been made within the institution, but brings up the inequalities that still arise, saying “as a woman in the military, I still always had to do that extra little thing to show that, yes, I can do this, versus my male counterpart..and that I was serious about it”. Sevrine’s progression through the rankings can be attributed to her perseverance and dedication, but she describes the general attitude towards women moving up in rank during Sevrine’s time in the military; that “you’re sleeping with somebody, or kissing someone’s behind” to get ahead. Sevrine described her frustrations with the negativity and undermining of the hard work that involves being promoted, saying that we should look at the hard work put into one’s job rather than speculating and downplaying the promotee’s qualifications, an issue that is especially worse for women. Sevrine says that, “as women, we have to continue to lift each other up and support women instead of being a part of that problem of bashing other women”.
Sevrine explains, though, that for young women interested in enlisting, the obstacles women face in the military have lessened. Bringing up equal opportunity, sexual harassment and assault prevention training, and women’s ability to help prevent problems by standing up for and protecting themselves, Sevrine explains how conditions have become better for women in the military today. Discussing her biggest challenge in the military, Sevrine brings up how her deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan affected her as a mother with a 13-month-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Saying she remembers the day she left “like it was yesterday”, Sevrine explains that she needed to separate herself from the responsibilities of motherhood and immerse herself in those of being a leader in the military so as to ensure a safe return home. Mentioning a source of motivation during this time, Sevrine explained how she would remind herself of “the sacrifices [she] made that eventually [her] children would be able to benefit [from]”. Sevrine also discussed her experiences serving with a military initiative, the Lioness Program, that aimed to lessen smuggling in Iraq at a time where the United States’s goal was to establish peace in the country. As the culture in the country didn’t allow for a male soldier to search females, women were used to hide contraband; the Lioness Program incorporated female soldiers into combat troops so as to conduct searches that were culturally appropriate on these women. Despite the drastic contrast between the lives of women overseas and her own, Sevrine explains that the commonality they all shared was motherhood, and the importance of their children’s safety and happiness; in fact, their children were the driving factor in every choice they made. Interacting with the women and children overseas, Sevrine says, was one of the most humbling experiences of her life. Giving families hygiene items, playing with the children, and seeing severely malnourished infants made perfectly clear the privilege of living in a place in which basic necessities, such as food and personal hygiene items, can often be taken for granted.
Today, Sevrine is an active contributor to the Women Veteran Alliance since moving to the Sacramento area 5 years ago, when, after researching, Sevrine found a local woman starting a chapter in Sacramento — missing the camaraderie of the military, Sevrine joined. The goal of the organization is to provide a space for women veterans to strengthen the bond of the common experiences they have and reach out to each other, especially seeing as many veterans organizations are male-dominated. At the Women Veteran Alliance, the unique experiences of women veterans can be highlighted and discussed in a way that is designed to provide support and resources to women. Seeing as the military is a largely male-dominated institution, the work Sevrine has done with both the military and the veteran’s community emphasizes the important role women have in protecting the United States, and demonstrates the support needed to further ensure women are able to serve and protect our country.