INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) -- Throughout America's history, generations of women have courageously broken down barriers, shattered stereotypes and changed society. Many of these women are members of the U.S. military, like this Hoosier recruiter who has found security and her future in service to her country.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Maria Banks’ military career had an unusual beginning.
"I wasn’t the best student, so I needed to go somewhere where I had better influences, so I moved in with my aunt who enrolled me in JROTC without me knowing. At first it was like, ‘What did I get myself into?’ but the values that they had really had me in a good place and wanting to better for myself and others. I was the one that actually always said, 'Oh just because I’m in JROTC doesn't mean that I’m going to join the Army. But I was also that one that people say, 'Did you just wake up one day and say I’m joining the Army?' But I was literally that person. I actually enlisted and then told my family I enlisted," Banks said.
"It was my senior year and I didn’t have a way to pay for college. I was looking around my area and wondering what am I going to do with my life. Seeing how hard my mom has worked all these years and never really being able to enjoy herself because she is always working for myself, for my sisters, for my brother. That made me want to do more, made me want to do better and it made me want to show her that she raised us well and that it’s going to pay off. My mother at first wasn’t very happy about it but now that she sees the opportunities that it is providing for me and my three children, she couldn’t be happier," Banks said.
"I can’t tell you how much stress it takes off my shoulders to know that when they grow up, they can make the choice of joining the military if they want to but they don’t have that as the only option because the military has provided me with the opportunity to be able to cover their tuitions simply by serving," Banks said.
"They said, 'You know what? You did us a solid and you served your country so here’s what we’re going to do in return. I’m going to cover your children’s tuition. Not only am I going to cover their tuition, but I’m also going to medically cover them,'" she said.
As for opportunities for women in the Army, Banks helps men and women make the most out of the opportunities that a career in the Army can provide.
"My role as a recruiter is to not only reach out to women, also to men, for them to understand that at the end of the day, we are human just like they are. We take this uniform off when we get home just like they take their work clothes off. I want them to understand that we were given an opportunity to basically help them and provide them with the same opportunity that we were given. I want them to understand that just because they see us in this uniform coming to talk to them, doesn’t make us any different than them. All we are doing is basically trying to give them the same opportunities that we were given," Banks said.
"What good things do you have in life that you haven’t worked hard for? How much to you appreciate something that you worked hard for as opposed to something that’s just given you? I think as women, the fact that we’ve had to work hard to earn the place that we have now, just makes us want to work even harder to ensure that we keep that place. Why would you just leave something that has been fought so hard for there, why not take it and allow it to make you someone better?" Banks said.