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Welcome to part 2/3 of Sidney Covington's story.
Interviewer: Martina Castellanos.
When asked if there was anything she did to cope with the common struggles that come with being a woman, Sidney replied:
SC: I think one of the things I do is talk to friends who know I have worked hard to get to where I am, because I feel like that reminder of deserving to be where you are is something important when you begin to question yourself.
I think this is very key in a sense. Talking to yourself isn’t always beneficial, I feel like sometimes it's best to talk to other people. Getting the 'you did this', 'you did that', and 'you deserve to be where you are because you have worked hard to be there' kind of lines because, sometimes, when we tell ourselves these things we may think "maybe I am being too conceited."
Sometimes we need people to remind us to be confident in our abilities and the work that we can bring forward.
MC: I agree. I feel like a lot of times, and this is just my experience, girls always have a tendency to slut shame each other, and how we value ourselves is sometimes dependant on a man. Like, who’s the guy you're with? Is he considered good in this given society? If he is, then you're doing well. I always ask myself: "why can’t my value be based solely on myself and what I can bring to the table?" I feel like girls are constantly insecure, doubting themselves.
The reason I did this interview is because women need to see other women thriving, they need to be appreciative of other women.
But moving on, what message would you give to women who want to join the army or any line of work where women are not typically the majority in?
SC: The advice I would give is "be you and be the best you." I think when I was in the military, my biggest competition was with myself because in the military, even though it is a group culture, you are still in competition with everyone. And when I stopped being in competition with everyone, it became a thing where it's like "what can I do to better myself and how can I be better at it?"
I remember one of my NCO’s, at the time I did not know how to respond to it. Now that I am older, it resonates a little bit more within me. It upset me because when I was trying to get into a position in the civilian world, or stay in the military, he told me I would get promoted faster because I was a black woman.
And I think that was crazy because I worked really hard. I used to run 17 minute 2 miles, and when I was in the middle of deciding to leave the military, I was running 13 minute 2 miles. So it was one of those things where he was saying my hard work did not matter because the only thing that was going to get me promoted was because of the fact that I was a minority woman.
It wasn’t because I busted my butt off, or because out of everyone in
my unit, I was the first person to finish my self-development courses, not even because I continued to take college classes while in the military. So I think, when joining the military, you have to be mindful that people will downplay your success because you're a woman, and be confident in yourself that you're working hard to be in the space you are in. That your promotions are not because you're a woman.
I feel like often times people will say: “the only reason you got that award is because you are a woman”, and you have to reply: “no, it’s because I did a damn good job. Because I made sure I held myself to the highest standard possible.”
So I think for women going in, just reminding them to always hold themselves to a high standard, and kind of keeping that in mind, because if you focus too much on the idea that you are a woman, I think you will start paying more attention to what men have to say about you.
Whereas, if you say "I am going to focus on myself, and pay attention to making myself better, it makes it a lot easier to be in a male dominated field."
I remember one time when I got to my 13 minute 2 miles. I was running, I was near the end, and one of my fellow soldiers, who was running next to me, had his NCO telling him: “Do not let her pass you! DO NOT LET HER PASS YOU!” And at that moment, had I been focused on the NCO saying that, I would have gotten distracted. So instead, I was like "Sidney ,keep going”, and that was literally the only thing on my mind. It didn’t matter who was running next to me, just passing them. And not because he was asking not to let me beat him, but it was one of those things where you think “what’s going to make me better and faster for myself?”, and not focusing on the fact that he’s the male and I’m the female.
There’s this whole thing where if she beats him, he’s going to look bad. You have to focus and think: “if I beat my own time, this means I’ve gotten faster and I’ve improved", and that's what matters to me. So that's what I mean by that. At moments, when you're in competition with other people or trying to become better, being mindful of the goal helps you improve yourself for yourself.
MC: Wow. 2 miles in 13 minutes! I did 1 mile in 13 minutes and I felt like a champ. But it was just P.E.
SC: In high school, I never ran. I was like "Oh, who runs? Not me." And then, to be able to run 17 minute 2 miles, and then to be able to run 13 minute 2 miles was a huge improvement. So I say, if you do something, do it for you and not for someone else.
MC: Preach. At what point did you decide you wanted to serve the country?
SC: I decided to join the military because I was a homeless college student and wanted to receive education benefits. I often tell people that a recruiter reached out to me. That’s actually not true. I reached out to the recruiter because I was looking up for options that would help pay for school, and the military was the first one.
MC: How was the whole military experience? All I know is what I have seen in the movies. Cadets getting up at the crack of dawn from their bunk beds to the sound of the trumpet. So I guess what I am asking is how was your day to day? You were a medic, right?
SC: Yes, I was a medic.
MC: Did you ever have to stitch up a wound? What’s the scariest thing you encountered?
SC: One thing that was very humbling was when I was working in the ER, and we had a patient that had come in with a gunshot wound. We didn’t know anything about this gun shot wound, it was self inflicted.
I was performing CPR training. And let me tell you, real life CPR is very hard. I remember I was stepping on a step stool because I had to be on my tippy toes to press down hard enough to be able to make it to where I was pumping blood through this patient's heart. And I think it was while I was pumping blood through the patient's heart when the doctor declared him dead, because the way the patient had shot himself, there was just no way he was going to survive.
He shot himself through inside the mouth up to his head. And I feel like that is one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with because first, that was one of the first times I was doing CPR in real life. Second, it was the first time I had to deal with a patient that was declared dead, and third, I think it was the first time I learned how people use humor.
I remember when I left the room. I was so upset. And I was like "how can people be laughing right now?" At the moment, it was my first time dealing with it so I was emotionally in shock. But what I realized people were doing was that they were trying to make it easier for themselves so they could go back to work, They had to go work on other patients, and if you were to, emotionally, get drained every time you had to deal with death, how will you be able to be available for other patients?
And so I learned how somebody can use humor in what most would consider a disturbing situation. When you have to declare someone dead and then go into another room with someone who may not have a real emergency, you have to be able to cope and deal with it, on a daily basis.
MC: This, honestly, must take a toll on everyone mentally. Seeing this first hand must be on another level of disconcerting.
SC: Yes, something I have learned to do is to appreciate how people use humor, and understanding that sometimes humor is people's way of making something that heavy, a little lighter. Sometimes, we forget that people are still human,and laughter helps release endorphins, which does something that a lot of other things can’t do for us.
MC: I can only imagine. Now, on a different note, I wanted to discuss the many cases of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) in the military. How did you deal with this? What precautions did you take? Do you believe people in the military should be held more accountable for it? How can we help MST survivors properly?
[to be continued]
Curious about what a woman from the Military has to say about MST? Learn Sidney's answer in her final part of the interview next week.