Dora Hernandez gave a decade of her life to the U.S. Navy and the Army National Guard, but some of the dangers surprised her.
"The worst thing for me is that you don't have to worry about the enemy, you have to worry about your own soldiers," she says.
Sitting in a circle, a group of women nod in agreement. All are veterans, most have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they're also survivors of another war. According to the Pentagon's own research, more than 1 in 4 women who join the military will be sexually assaulted during their careers.
America has been debating the role of women in combat since 1779.
That's when the Continental Congress first awarded a military disability pension to Mary Corbin after she manned a cannon in the Revolutionary War at the battle of Fort Washington in New York. Corbin got only half the pension male soldiers received, but she asked for — and received — the full ration of rum.
Today, as the Pentagon decides how to remove the combat exclusion, women still have trouble getting fully recognized for what they've achieved at war.
In a series of reports this week, NPR's Quil Lawrence looks at some of the most pressing challenges facing America's nearly 2 million female veterans. Like men, they often need assistance in finding jobs, dealing with PTSD and reintegrating into their families. And all too often, women say their military experience included sexual harassment or sexual assault.