By Allison Knight , for CNN Written by
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point might not have a race divide to speak of, but how far does the military really go to reconcile?
In a new documentary, former Vietnam War Lieutenant Commander Bruce Coglianese examines an academy housing policy that intentionally distanced eligible male recruits from women.
CNN is showing the movie “A Place to Stand,” on Tuesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. ET.
Coglianese is one of four military “believers” who join director Steve Robinson, who served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, on a mission to advocate for these men in Veterans Affairs departments throughout the country.
“A Place to Stand” follows these four soldiers, who appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 2003, as they describe the inequalities they experienced serving in the U.S. military.
While each has a unique story of what they did to differentiate themselves from others during recruit training, they all went through the same process.
“I went into the interview wanting to test these beliefs of these soldiers that I was interviewing, and then I got exposed to what was really going on,” Robinson told CNN.
“It was a wonderful lesson for me, how what we’re actually doing can happen to you.
“You learn to have a different mindset, a different understanding of yourself,” he added.
During recruitment, female recruits were assigned a “gender box” or a “warrior box,” where they were segregated from men and didn’t mix with each other at all.
To disprove stereotypes about military men, a color or religion box was created, further segregating female recruits.
And to ensure the female “warrior boxes” were filled up with the best, men were singled out and forced to do extra “physical training” or get more estrogen.
All of the men interviewed in the film describe their first year of training as a vicious and racist battle to prove themselves, including one South African Navy man who says he couldn’t shake off the specter of antisemitism.
“It was like an ugly tribal hatred,” Coglianese said.
“It was like, ‘You are my enemy, and you will never exist in this place again.'”
In 2016, the military relaxed its restrictions on potential women candidates. Now, an applicant’s performance record can be taken into account — but Robinson says it’s still the case that military recruiters use traditional female-only tests, such as sexual harassment allegations or physical fitness.
“The people in charge of this regard the only women they know is the ones that they’ve trained to target, and women are seen as that,” he said.
“It’s not about speaking to women … the thing is, we don’t have the capacity to look into ourselves to say ‘this is something I can’t do.’ We’re still programmed to look at a woman differently.”
Coglianese said he hopes “A Place to Stand” raises awareness of the current issue of racial inequality in the military, as well as opens the eyes of viewers.
“Until you’ve gone through a reality and been part of it, you can’t comprehend it,” he said.
“It’s like that line: ‘She who can give is never required to take.’ I think everybody can appreciate that. That’s our ‘American values’ and we can’t forget it.”