PSU veterans: a closer look.

More than 28,000 women represent Oregon’s veteran population. The I Am Not Invisible presentation, which opens tonight at 5 p.m. at the Portland Art Museum, features portraits of 20 of those extraordinary service women. Here is one of their stories: A service member for 20 years and a veteran for a year and a half, undergraduate Jacqueline Caputi talked challenges, rewards and volunteering.

“I joined the Marines in 1995,” Caputi said. “I think it was sometimes for me a little bit more challenging because I’ve always been very set in my ways of thinking and my morals. I had a set goal of values that I wanted to stick to [while] doing my duty as a service member. Which I think I carry on to my current life; I do a lot of volunteer work.”

Caputi also got her associate’s degree in liberal arts during her years in the service. She often spent her vacation time in academic endeavors and went to protocol school in Washington, D.C. “I feel like I’ve been in school my whole life, always improving,” she said. “The time I spent in the Marine Corps finished molding what was already in process.”

Caputi’s military training was at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms in the California desert. Later she spent a lot of time on the Japanese mainland and the island of Okinawa, and was also deployed to Thailand, Australia, Korea and Iraq. “It’s seen as something so extremely out of the ordinary,” Caputi said, “but when I think of my father-in-law, my husband’s grandfather, my husband, who all served, I just feel that my contribution was so minimal compared to some of their sacrifices.”

The last half of her time in the Marines Caputi worked in the counseling field with service members and their families helping them make decisions about their contracts, such as where they wanted to be designated while in the service. “That was extremely fulfilling,” she said. “My last ten years was the best time of my life when it comes to working with people.”

At Portland State Caputi is enrolled in International Development Studies and will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree. “The lens that I see the world with today is not the same one when I retired from the Marine Corps,” Caputi said. “Retiring kind of opened the doors for me to have a clean palette to do whatever I wanted to do, and I just was very fortunate to get into international studies.”

Having come from a background where everything is very timely and schedules are rigid, being a student in a study environment has an ease to it for Caputi. “It’s a different lifestyle,” she said. “My adjustment as a veteran was just being comfortable in an everyday environment without being hyper-alert all the time. That’s the sticking point as a veteran—it’s not that serious anymore. After you’ve been in a situation where everything is so serious to where it’s not so serious anymore is a big switch.”

After graduation Caputi plans to keep serving the community by volunteering. She’s also focused on making up for lost time with her daughter. “I missed a lot of things that I just can’t bring back,” she said. “Now if she calls me and she forgot her history book I feel like superwoman being able to get in my car and making it happen. It’s the best thing in the world.”

With all her life experiences, Caputi feels she has a lot to offer. “I’m very proud of having been given the opportunity to serve my country,” Caputi said. “I feel like I served with honor and I don’t have any regrets. One thing that I’m really ecstatic about is that I am no longer searching for anything, and that’s such a great feeling. I’m just really open. I honestly believe that I am the luckiest person in the world.”

Her volunteer activities include assisting with Latino Studies, helping with PSU’s Persian Festival and working with refugee children through Portland’s branch of the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization.

“There are a lot of people who are veterans, a lot of women who are veterans, who are contributing their time, their care, their expertise, which they developed in their military training, into the civilian sector,” Caputi said. “I think sometimes when people hear the word veteran it’s sometimes a doubled-edged sword; depending on the context we’re looked upon as we’re being helped as veterans because we can’t help ourselves.” But, she explained, “Veterans do a lot of the helping.”

The I am not Invisible project begins Feb. 24, with an opening at Portland Art Museum 5-7:30 p.m. After tonight, the project will appear at various locations throughout the state, including PSU.