Who is Vernishia Renee?

When I graduated high school in 1999, I had a great idea that I’d attend a community college and then transfer to my dream college, Howard University. By time the second semester came, it was made clear that I wasn’t really ready for school. I wasn’t focused; I had two younger sisters I had just taken into my home, a live-in boyfriend and a full time job. I dropped out of school but felt guilty of giving up on pursuing higher education.
While sitting trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, the only thing I kept thinking was how I didn’t want to become dependent upon someone else to take care of me for the rest of my life. When I say dependent upon anyone for the rest of my life, I meant a man. I also had to figure out how I would earn money for college in the event I’d want to return when I was ready.
One day in January, I saw my sister at one of her best friends wedding and at that time, she had been in the Navy almost two years. From what I could remember, she seemed happy and a month later which would be February, I walked into the recruiter’s office and asked to join the Navy. One question that I couldn’t shake was whether or not I was “hard core” enough to join the Navy. My sister, who’s my twin sister had the tough mentality where as I was pretty quiet and laid back. It wasn’t until I left for boot camp I realized whether or not I was cut out for military.
I left for boot camp August 14, 2000. As soon as I got off the plane, a group of us were shuffled up to a room where there were “people” yelling at us and immediately, confusion set in. “We’re not even at boot camp yet, why are these folks yelling at me?” I shook my head and stood against a wall with my small bag. A lady came up to me and said, “Take that ponytail out of your head.” I looked at her and I could tell she saw the confusion on my face. I said, “Excuse me but my recruiter said as long as I had it tucked in a bun I could keep my hair pulled back.” She laughed and said, “No, not here.” I took it down and I could hear the gasps of the other folks around me. My hair fell almost to my bra strap. I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself, “They’re gonna cut my hair off.”
On to a new day, well a couple of new days and it was haircut day and the first thing one of the ladies said at the beauty shop was, “Oh, we’re gonna have a good time with this one!” My eyes filled with tears and I turned and asked, “Is it too late to go home?” One of the Recruit Division Commanders yelled, “Yes it is recruit!” I sat in the chair, tears rolled down my cheek and all I hear was a spray bottle squirting and scissors cutting. It was then that I realized my life had been changed forever.
Looking back, that wasn’t so bad after all since most of my naval career I’ve worn my hair short. In twelve years, I believe I’ve had a million and one hairstyles and coined the name, Woman of many hairstyles.
Today, I look back on a lot of things that have happened throughout my time serving and can’t help but think about all of the good, bad and in betweens that have taken place. Most importantly the things that those who are on the outside believe we do as Sailors and as women in the military, period.
A lot of times I hear how women who serve in the military and those who have never served believe that they’re stripped of their femininity. I’m a true testament to how I’ve maintained my femininity and was still able to serve my country proud. Well, except for one time while serving in Iraq. I was a part of an Army unit there and after being there for about three to four months, I had a female from the Army (not sure her pay grade) tell me to take my earrings out while in an Army uniform. Confused, I looked at her, looked down at my service tag (across from my name tag) and said, “I’m in the Navy.” She looked, smiled and said, “I know but you’re wearing an Army uniform. We don’t wear earrings in uniform.” I was crushed and this probably made the rest of my tour in Iraq longer than what it was because it was then I felt as if I was stripped of my femininity.

So, who is Vernishia Renee? I’m a Sailor. I’m a service member. I’m smart. I’m successful. I’m stylish. I’m spiritual. I’m strong. I’m the mastermind behind Serving Proud & Chic to share who we are as service members and dispel any rumors or misunderstandings people may have on women serving in the military.

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