Junior League of Topeka Member, SGT. Jeri Billings-Carpenter, serves in the Kansas Army National Guard.
What inspired you to join the military?
I joined when I was 21 years old, and at that time, I remember feeling trapped in this cycle of go to school, go to work, sleep, and repeat. I was restless and desperately searching for purpose. I wanted to do something for me, something I could be proud of. As crazy as it sounds, ultimately, that calling led me to an Army recruiter’s office.
What has your experience been as a woman in the military?
My experience as a woman within the military has been a ride, that’s for sure. While great strides have been made to make the military more inclusive of women, it is still very much a “man’s world.” For me, that looks like both an internal and external battle. Internally, I’m always striving to be the best Soldier I can be. When people hear my name, I want them to think, “oh yeah, she gets stuff done and can hold her own.” There’s a quote I’ve heard before that kind of sums up my internal struggles perfectly. “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say ‘she doesn’t have what it takes;’ they will say, ‘women don’t have what it takes.’” Externally, it can be difficult putting on the uniform every morning and concealing my femininity. We are restricted on our overall appearance. I miss being able to wear my hair down on a daily basis and paint my fingernails wild colors. But don’t get it twisted, I’ve never felt like more of a confident, fierce woman than I have since joining the military.
What would you tell girls or young women today looking for ways to join?
I will always encourage girls or young women looking to serve to 110% go for it! I am all about empowering all women, but the ones who go after unconventional roles (like the military) will always be near and dear to me. You are capable of way more than you would ever believe, and these types of roles bring that out. It won’t always be good, there are some really hard days and difficult seasons, but I can promise you without the military I wouldn’t be the woman I am today, and little Jeri would be so amazed, and happy, about the Jeri I am now.
Thank you, Jeri, and all those that have served, for your service!