FAYETTEVILLE — When Jasmine Coleman reflects on her time in the Army, it’s mostly with a sense of pride, but she doesn’t forget those who came before her.
“I sometimes think of how my life would have progressed if I had been born 20 or even 15 years earlier,” Coleman said. “There would have been some open doors, but many closed ones, too — shut tight purely because my skin color is darker than someone else’s.”
Coleman grew up in the Cumberland County town of Spring Lake after her father retired from the military. She said her grandfathers, uncle — someone from just about every generation of her family — have served in the military. Five of her uncles fought in either the Vietnam or Korean wars and returned to a nation where they had to also fight for equality and respect with the rest of Black America.
Being one of five siblings, she always thought it’d be one of her brothers who’d join the military.
Yet by the time she reached her senior year in 1998, she realized joining could help alleviate the cost of college.
“It was after the first Gulf War,” Coleman recalled. “So my understanding was the worst-case scenario would be going overseas away from family. I had family that went overseas during the Gulf War and came back. It wasn’t like I was drafted.”
Coleman remembers her father placing his hand on her shoulder as she pondered the decision.
“It was an interesting position to be in,” she said. “There’s a sense of patriotism. My dad grew up in Mississippi and said there’d be times that ‘People don’t want you there because you’re female or not see you because you’re Black.’ But he said, ‘Make damn sure when they see you, you look good.’
“That was the one thing I always carried with me. For classification purposes, I may be deemed a minority, but nothing I’ve done in my life has ever been minor — nothing.”
Coleman was the first in her family to complete a college degree. Then she earned a master’s. Then came the military. Eight years of it. One of the best times of her life.
Her first year was in Oklahoma. “I joined to see the world, and I saw Oklahoma, then they brought me back home,” Coleman joked.
The first time she ever stepped on a plane was to go to basic training.
“I used a payphone to call my dad ... ‘They said I got to go to Missouri on a plane,’” she recalled. “I was scared. He said, ‘They got you now. Welcome to the Army.’”
Coleman served in administrative positions. Her civil affairs unit at Fort Bragg had about 28 people in the company — two were Black, two Hispanic and she was the only woman.
She strived to ensure she put the best effort into the job. Remember: Do nothing minor. If she didn’t know the answer to something, she found someone who did.
Over time, she learned a lot about duty. Honor. Even heroism, although she never went into combat.
She said stories of heroism aren’t just about people “following orders” but rather about “individuals who make sacrifices and choices that are life-altering and life-saving.”
“It’s inherent,” she said. “They can’t teach that. You can’t teach someone to push someone out of the way of a tripwire.”
She met people who would give her the keys to drive their car or invite her to stay with them when her husband was deployed.
“That’s what forged relationships,” she said. “We still have those connections, and it’s those relationships that built memories.”
That’s why Coleman said she considers her time in the Army a blessing.
As far as race, well, Coleman said she’s seen more issues in the private sector than she ever did in the military. Most question or overlook that she is a veteran because she is a woman, she said, noting a time she was questioned parking in a spot reserved for veterans at Lowe’s.
“I’ve had someone say, ‘You don’t look like a veteran,” she said. “Well, what do veterans look like?”