Fourteen women Veterans from across the country were selected by The White House as a Women Veterans Champion of Change. They were honored in ceremonies hosted by the White House and the Department of Veterans Affairs on March 19.
“These women Veterans continued serving long after their military service,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “It is about being part of something bigger than ourselves. It is the thread that connects everyone here. You served proudly. Now it is our turn to answer the call.”
The White House annually recognizes Americans who are making positive change in their communities. This year, commemorating Women Veterans Make History during Women’s History Month, the White House selected 14 women Veterans whose contributions and sacrifices while serving in the military were often surpassed by the extraordinary things they are doing today to make a difference in their communities.
One of the 14 women honored was VA Chief of Chaplains Priscilla Mondt, from the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville, Ark. Chaplain Mondt retired from the Army Chaplain Corps having served in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. She was the recipient of the Bronze Star for combat valor and the Legion of Merit. Her visionary approach to spiritual care, from personal care to technology, set a high standard for addressing the needs of Veteran patients and families.
“I’m proud to be a woman Veteran, but even prouder to be serving Veterans,” said Chaplain Mondt. “I understand their culture, the journey they made. When they ask for a combat Veteran to work with one of our Vets who is dealing with spiritual and mental health issues, the Vet is always a bit surprised to see a woman walk through the door. But it doesn’t take long to know I’m one of them.
“This event not only recognizes women Veterans, but also the diverse roles that women had in the military,” said Mondt, who served under the current Secretary of VA, then General Eric Shinseki . “There are not many women Chaplains in combat. General Shinseki got it. He truly understood the importance of treating the spiritual part of the person, as well as the physical.”
Both Secretary Shinseki and his wife, Patty Shinseki, attended the event. The Secretary voiced his thanks and appreciation not only to the women awardees, but to all women who have served and continue to serve. He talked about the increasing demands for women Veterans’ health care, along with his commitment to meet those demands.
Marsha Tansey Four, a Champion of Change and a Vietnam Veteran, talked about VA care when she arrived home from serving as a nurse in Vietnam. “There were no women’s clinics, there was no privacy, there were no speciality programs,” she said. “But let me tell you now, the VA has made huge progress. It’s undeniable that it’s a different and better VA for women than ever before.”
Also speaking at the event was Under Secretary for Benefits, Brigadier General Allison Hickey, whose title to her presentation said it all, ‘“You Can’t.” Says Who?”’ A 1980 a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s first class to include women, Gen. Hickey went on to serve as a pilot and aircraft commander, and accumulated more than 1,500 hours of flight time in KC-10A, KC-135A, T-38 and T-37 aircraft.
“All of these women being honored today have stories of hearing ‘You Can’t’ and responding with
Who says?” said Gen. Hickey. “Each made it happen and continue to make a difference in the lives of others – reshaping the message women so often hear from ‘You Can’t’ to ‘YOU CAN’– and I am here to help you do it.”
Each awardee was afforded the opportunity to talk about her military careers and what she is doing today to improve the lives of others, from caring for the homeless on the streets of New York City to providing training and skills to be farmers in rural California. Some stories brought laughter, some brought tears, but all brought respect and admiration for lives well spent.
Below is a list of the Women Veterans who were honored yesterday.
Tia is a proud US Navy Veteran currently serving as Chief of Staff for the Farmer Veteran Coalition in Davis, California. Prior to her current post she served as the 1st Women Veteran Coordinator for Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco. Tia speaks nationally on issues facing women veterans and veterans in transition. Over the last 10 years Tia has testified before the state and federal legislature about Military Sexual Trauma and volunteers as a clinician instructor for those working with military survivors. She is the author of You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are: A Straightforward Transition Manual.
Stacy L. Pearsall
Stacy L. Pearsall is a combat disabled Air Force veteran who earned the Bronze Star Medal and Commendation with Valor for heroic actions under fire. Pearsall now plays a pivotal role in changing and implementing new policy regarding veteran’s healthcare at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. She dedicates countless hours to speaking with women combat veterans one-on-one nationwide to help them seek and receive the care they need and deserve through all channels necessary. She is involved in disabled veteran outreach and recovery care coordination. She is a spokeswoman/advocate for the Veterans Affairs, Defense Centers of Excellence, IAVA, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Independence Fund and the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. She is a member of the American Legion and a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign War and Disabled American Veterans organizations through which she gathers donated clothes and shower items for homeless veterans, and makes frequent in-patient visits to hospital-bound veterans. She is also a board member of the Foundation for Arts & Healing at Harvard University and Wounded Nature Working Veterans, both of which are non-profit organizations who aid disabled combat veterans from every branch of service. She singlehandedly funds and photographs veterans her voluntary project, the Veterans Portrait Project Foundation (VPPF). Though disabled from combat injuries, Pearsall is a multi-medaled athlete, including gold, from the US Paralympic sponsored Warrior Games in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught, USAF, Retired
President, Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation
Wilma Vaught was the driving force that built and now operates the $22.5 million Women’s Memorial at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery. The Memorial and its 33,000 sq. ft. education facility is the nation’s only major memorial to pay tribute to America’s 2.5 million women who have served. The Memorial stands as a place where America’s servicewomen can take their rightful place in history and where their stories will be told for future generations. Because of Wilma Vaught, the American people and visitors from around the world can learn of the courage and bravery of tens of thousands of American women who, like her, have pioneered the future.
Kayla Williams is the author of Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army, a memoir about her experiences negotiating the changing demands on women in today’s military during a deployment to Iraq. Ms. Williams graduated cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Bowling Green State University, and earned an MA in International Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from American University. She is a former member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans and a current Truman National Security Project fellow and member of the Army Education Advisory Committee.
Natasha Young is a Fellowship Recruitment Associate at The Mission Continues, serving the northeast and southeast United States. A 12-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Natasha served two tours of duty in Iraq and one recruiting duty stateside before a medical discharge in October 2011. Since her discharge, Natasha has overcome significant challenges to now serve a leading roll in changing the public perception of veterans nationwide. She has dedicated herself to helping other veterans overcome the struggles of their transitions and emerge empowered to not only lead new lives of service, but set the example for others to follow.
As Founder and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive, Ginger Miller is dedicated to meeting women veterans at their points of need, while supporting them through Advocacy, Empowerment, Interaction, Outreach, and Unification (AEIOU). She actively promotes the importance of tailoring services to women veterans’ needs, and has organized a host of programs for women veterans that feature information, mentoring and peer support, meeting women veterans at their points of need, capitalizing on their assets, and helping them to overcome barriers to help-seeking. Maryland Governor O’Malley appointed her to the Maryland Commission for Women and the Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council. Ginger also serves as Advisory Council member of the Maryland Veterans Resilience Initiative, and she was recently named Chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Veterans Commission.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Michelle Racicot is a Family Nurse Practitioner at an Urgent Care Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A former Army Nurse Corp officer, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, she is the Vice Executive Director for American Women Veterans, a national organization that advocates on behalf of servicewomen, veterans and their families. In her home of Albuquerque, Michelle is the Vice Chair for Cuidando Los Ninos an organization committed to ending child homelessness in her local community. Michelle educates legislators and local community members about homelessness, PTSD, women in combat and health disparities.
Glenna Tinney, Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret.), MSW, ACSW, DCSW, has worked tirelessly for more than three decades to facilitate change in both the civilian and military systems to eliminate violence against women. She currently serves as the Military Advocacy Program Coordinator for the Battered Women’s Justice Project, a national technical assistance provider for the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). As one of the original 12 Navy social workers recruited for active duty in 1980, Glenna served for 24 years working with military families and managing worldwide family violence and sexual assault programs. Today, she manages a special project funded by OVW to develop a model coordinated community response to co-occurring incidents of combat-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and intimate partner violence. She trains military and community-based civilian victim advocates and other providers to increase their capacity to address the unique needs of military-related intimate partner violence victims and offenders. Glenna also monitors and engages in dialogue to influence legal, military, veteran, and public policy developments nationwide that affect civil/criminal justice responses to intimate partner violence involving military personnel and veterans. In her work, Glenna collaborates with a diverse group of stakeholders from the military, veteran, and civilian communities.
Dawn Halfaker graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2001 and was seriously injured during a combat patrol near Baghdad in 2004. Undeterred, Dawn stayed a part of the fight and formed a new enterprise, Halfaker and Associates in 2006. She is passionate about empowering veterans through meaningful careers, and today, her team has over 130 employees dedicated to the principle of Continuing to Serve. Dawn is a strong advocate for our nation’s warriors and serves as the President of the Board of Directors for the Wounded Warrior Project. She remains very active with several Advisory Committees and veteran service organizations.
Chaplain Priscilla Mondt serves as Chief, Chaplain Service, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Fayetteville, AR where she is responsible for a comprehensive spiritual care program. Full career Army Veteran, including Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, Chaplain Mondt is the recipient of the Bronze Star and Legion of Merit. She is a visionary leader whose innovative approach to spiritual care, from personal care to technology, set a high standard for addressing the needs of Veteran patients and families.
Marsha Tansey Four
Marsha Four, residing in the Philadelphia area, is an in-country Vietnam Veteran, sits on the National Board of Directors of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and is the Chair of its National Women Veterans Committee. She has devoted the past 24 years to working with and advocating for Veterans to include contributing, writing, and delivering testimony related to Veterans issues on the local, state and federal levels. Marsha was appointed twice to the VA Secretarial Committee on Women Veterans. She organized a joint VVA/VA community-wide PTSD day-long workshop for emergency, hospital and social service personnel. In 1993, Marsha initiated the Philadelphia Stand Down for Homeless Veterans and recently retired as the Executive Director of The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service and Education Center, a non-profit agency providing free, comprehensive services to regional Veterans. As such, she took the developmental lead on establishing the Mary E. Walker House, a nationally recognized transitional residence for homeless women Veterans. Her service to county and community continues to impact the lives of thousands upon thousands of Veterans in need and their families.
Sharie Derrickson is a disabled service-connected US Navy veteran. She served at both Stars and Stripes newspaper and was a combat photojournalist with Navy Combat Camera and traveled extensively around the world and is the Vice President of New Wind Energy Solutions in Nashville, Tennessee. Sharie and her team are committed to sustainability on a global level and works to vet the newest technologies to ensure they are not only reliable, but practical, and affordable. Sharie joined the team a year and a half ago working in the marketing arena, but her passion for “going green” allowed her to take a more hands-on roll and she quickly moved up the ranks to Vice President of New Wind. She has helped her company grow in the green industry that now has projects around the world, including international relief efforts – also one of her passions. Sharie’s motivation is the belief that the future of the world depends on how it uses its resources, protects the environment from which those resources come, and ensures the viability of the cultures that depend on our good stewardship.
In 2010, Marylyn Harris, a former Army Nurse and Disabled War Veteran, founded the nation’s first and only Women Veterans Business Center (WVBC) in Houston, Texas. The Centers mission is to educate and empower Women Veterans (and Military Families) to start and grow Veteran-Owned Businesses. Marylyn, a business owner, travels throughout the country advocating for active Service Members, Veterans and Military Families.
Los Angeles, CA
Becky Kanis graduated from West Point in 1991 and served for nine years as an Officer in the US Army. Unwilling to continue deceiving her colleagues about her sexual orientation, she resigned her commission in 2000 and soon began working to end homelessness in New York City. After leading an effort that successfully reduced street homelessness in Times Square by over two thirds, Becky became the Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a grassroots nationwide effort to find and house 100,000 of the most chronic and vulnerable homeless people by July 2014. The Campaign is coordinated by the New York City-based non-profit organization, Community Solutions. Under Becky’s leadership, it has already helped communities find permanent housing for more than 37,000 homeless Americans, including 13,000 veterans. In 2008, Becky became the founding board chair of Knights Out, a non-profit group of West Point alumni coming out as LGBT in opposition to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that was overturned during President Obama’s first administration. In 2012, she co-founded The Social Change Agency with her wife, Christine, to support non-profit leaders in creating thriving teams that change the world.
Kerri Childress is the Director, Health Systems Communications, for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She is also a U.S. Navy Veteran.