Veterans talk about experience as minorities in the army

The paneled discussion focused on the experience of being a minority in the military.

The Talk Culture Series hosted the Life as a Minority Veteran paneled discussion to discuss life in the military Tuesday evening in the Student Center.

The panel featured a white woman, a black male, an Asian male and two Native American males.

Ebony Walls, graduate assistant for the Center of Multicultural Affairs, said they had people from all different backgrounds “to show you that no minority is the same, but yet they still experience the same oppressions or marginalizations.”

United States Army Officer Suzy Alberts said the experience of being a minority in the army has given her a voice in the midst of the harsh comments and discrimination.

“The experience has allowed me to not be afraid of my own voice, and the ability to act or react,” Alberts said.

Michael Bugaj, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Major, said he saw unity, not discrimination.

“When it came time down to it, we got the job done,” Bugaj said.

Eric Cox, retired Marine Master Sgt., wasn’t able to practice his religious rituals and ceremonies while in the military because he was a part of the small percentage of Native Americans in the military.

“Our religious ways boil down to discipline,” Cox said. “We do our ceremonies when nature tells us to. [In the military] we didn’t have a place where we could do pipe ceremonies or sweat lodges.”

Cadet Ralph Capistrano, a senior in the ROTC program at EMU, said he had the stereotypical label that Asians can’t drive until he proved his commander wrong and ended up with the job of driving his commander’s around in various vehicles for two years.

“There’s always going to be stereotypical thoughts about whatever kind of people that you can think of,” Capistrano said. “We have to represent ourselves and stand up for ourselves.”

Newest to the military atmosphere, Cadet Shairon Rowe, a junior in EMU’s ROTC program, is focused on working on leadership skills to ensure that minorities are more respected than they have.

“Get outside of my comfort zone and be at my fullest potential as a person and gain leadership skills,” Rowe said. “I want to be a voice and a positive influence on my peers and lower generations coming up.”

People who have not been involved with the military are unaware of the circumstances that are happening.

“It’s important to recognize things like this,” senior language and literature major Jennifer Holleberands said. “Half of the stuff I didn’t even know and those people are defending the country, so it is important to know what is going on.”

Each minority gives a different perspective on how they have been affected by being in the minority in the military with unique experiences.

“I was blown away by the different minorities that were out there,” sophomore social work major Tyler Steinhoff said. “I was amazed at the female that she had the roughest time in the military and being a male myself it was making me angry to hear some of that was going on.”

Despite the issues with minorities in the military, Capistrano sees this as a chance to fix the issues, instead of dwelling on them.

“Let’s see these problems not as problems, but as opportunities to change,” Capistrano said.

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