Women Enlistees Use Video Blogs To Share Advice With Other Recruits

Female soldiers might be able to serve in more positions than ever, but they are still a minority in the armed forces, and female recruiters are even harder to come by. It can be hard for female recruits to get advice from other women. Some women enlistees are turning to YouTube to learn what life in the military will be like.

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In today's volunteer force, when women sign up, they may have questions about military life that are different from the ones men would ask.

NPR's Brenda Salinas has discovered one place where female recruits are turning for help. They're going to video blogs.

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: If you want to be let in on a military secret, go to YouTube and search for Sock Bun.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOS)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi, YouTube. This video is going to be a tutorial on how to create a Sock Bun.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: How to put your hair into a sock bun.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: The military sock bun...

DOLLY MARIE SPICE: ...you take a little sock bun.

SALINAS: That last blogger is a woman named Dolly Marie Spice. She's a senior airman in the Air Force Reserves, so she knows from experience that women in uniform need sturdy hairstyles that can be executed quickly and neatly. When she first enlisted, she was looking for a little advice and not just about hair styles. She turned to YouTube and even there, her search turned up empty.

SPICE: I had a hard time finding a lot of stuff on YouTube, especially women. You know, from women maybe fresh out of basic training, that was hard to come by.

SALINAS: So she started blogging about her own experiences. So far, she has made 30 videos where she talks to her 2,000 followers.

Usually, when recruits want to find out what life in the military is really going to be like, they go to their recruiter. But women who are signing up face different challenges, have different questions and men don't always have the answers.

SERGEANT BRIDGET JACKSON: Kids of today, they want to go in depth.

SALINAS: That's Sergeant Bridget Jackson. She's works in an Army recruiting station in Largo, Maryland. All the female recruits in the area get forwarded to her.

JACKSON: They want to know how do I feel about leaving my family; are we able to wash our hair and take a shower. And I don't know what myths they heard of but they want to know, as a female, if I'm out there in Afghanistan, am I out there in the middle of nowhere not taking a shower.

SALINAS: Her newest recruit, Erica Mason, has those doubts, too, though she's not completely uninitiated; she comes from a military family and she did Junior ROTC. That means she's ready for the culture shock. But she'll be away from her two kids for 17 weeks. When she talks to her husband, a retired Marine, there are things he just doesn't understand.

ERICA MASON: I always tell him, you know, you went in right after high school. You had no family. You've never left, you know, kids that you gave birth to or your spouse. That's pretty much like nothing that anybody can understand, unless you went through it and you're a mom and you left your kids for boot camp or you left, you know, for deployment or something. Nobody understands.

SALINAS: Sergeant Jackson, her recruiter, understands. She was a single mom when she deployed. Now she talks to her recruits about everything, from how she used to get her nails done on base in Afghanistan to how she advanced in her military career. The men in her recruiting office can't do what she does.

JACKSON: I'm a hot commodity.

SALINAS: How many female recruiters does the Army have?

JACKSON: Not enough, I can tell you that. I'm not sure about the numbers but for our company, our company has over 40 soldiers. Out of the 40, as of last week, it was only three of us.

SALINAS: That means most women have men for recruiters. So when they want advice from women already in the military, they go online.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

SPICE: Hey guys, this is a video to show you what I'm taking with me to basic training.

SALINAS: Dolly Marie isn't the only blogger on YouTube. There are more than 20 others like her. They're from every branch of service, active duty and reserves. They answer private questions and offer support.

SPICE: So I figured just kind of help the next group of people going in, I was going to document every step, you know, of the process of me joining, just to help other people wanting to join.

SALINAS: Video bloggers aren't recruiters but they fill a void for women signing up with questions about everything, from what to do with their hair to how to say goodbye to their kids when they go off to war.

Brenda Salinas, NPR News.

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