For many people, retirement marks the end of one chapter and the start of another. This is especially true for active-duty personnel when they transition into civilian life.
When asked about her own transition out of the military, Robin Harder — a former Spanish and Russian linguist for the Army — explained that her experience was easier than she thought it would be, in part because she set herself up for success.
Robin Harder: "Before I retired, I started the Women Veterans of San Antonio. In 2013, I was on the third foot surgery on convalescent leave, and I knew the end of 2014 would be it for me. So I started researching veterans' organizations in San Antonio. I couldn't find anything that fit me. So I decided... why not create it?"
Although Harder has a deep respect and appreciation for other military support groups in San Antonio, they didn’t quite align with what she wanted, which was “an organization that I could have fun in, not just sit around and talk about my problems.”
Women Veterans of San Antonio, serves, honors, and empowers women Veterans from all eras and branches of service. According to the group’s mission statement, they do this by “providing our women Veterans opportunities for networking, socializing, volunteering, and giving back to the Veteran community, all while bringing public awareness to the specific issues of women Veterans."
The group now has over 650 members.
When asked about her member’s biggest challenges, Harder responded, “Just being recognized as a veteran! … On the back of all of our tee shirts, we have the saying: 'Women are veterans, too.'”
“If you go to the VA, they're like, 'Oh are you here waiting for your husband?’ [or] 'Oh, what's your sponsor's social?' And you're like, 'No! I'm the veteran!'” she explained with an exasperated laugh.
Situations like that are frustrating, but Harder and her organization have used these experiences as opportunities to educate people about women veterans.
Recorded on Feb. 8, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas.
Kimberly K. Smith: You know I've heard many military people say, after they transition, that it was a very difficult process moving from the military into the civilian community. Did you experience any difficulties?
Robin Harder: No, and the reason is: I believe I set myself up for success. So before I retired, I started the Women Veterans of San Antonio. In 2013, I was on the third foot surgery on convalescent leave, and I knew the end of 2014 would be it for me. So I started researching veterans' organizations in San Antonio. I couldn't find anything that fit me. So I decided... why not create it? So started the group, and I wanted an organization that I could have fun in, not just sit around and talk about my problems. Because that's not what I wanted, and I found that that's what a lot of other women want too. So I was busy running the group and getting that started and established. Then I started my transitional leave, took off my uniform, and I've just been progressing with the group. I still feel like, any day now, I'm going to put my uniform on and get off leave and go to work. So I've had an easy transition just because I've surrounded with the organization and many women veterans.
Smith: Well, I was on your webpage last night, the San Antonio Women Veterans group. And I noticed there are 630 members in your group.
Harder: There are almost 650 now.
Harder: I haven't updated the website.
Smith: What do you hear from your members about their challenges?
Harder: Just being recognized as a veteran! And I'm wearing a tee shirt today that has our logo on it. On the back of all of our tee shirts, we have the saying: 'Women are veterans too.' And the reason we have that is because, like, if you go to the VA, they're like, 'Oh are you here waiting for your husband?’ 'Oh, what's your sponsor's social?' And you're like, 'No! I'm the veteran!' Even on my car I have a woman veteran license plate. They will... If me and my husband are out, and we get out of the car, someone will come up to him and shake his hand and thank him for his service. And it's my car with the woman veteran license plate! You know, people just don't think of that. When I was still serving three years ago, my husband would be like, 'Uh my wife is still in the Army. I'm the one that's retired.' And they don't know how to act if it's a man. They're like 'Oh okay.'
Smith: How does that affect you? How do you cope with that?
Harder: It's frustrating. It's just education, I guess. So I wear my Women Veterans of San Antonio shirt a lot. Just get that out there. And everywhere I go, I ask, 'Do you have veterans' discount?' Just education. So that's part of the Women Veterans of San Antonio mission is provide that education.