Celebrating female Veterans – past, present & future


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Throughout March people across the country will celebrate Women’s History Month, paying tribute to the vital role women have played in United States history. Generations of women have courageously blazed trails, broken barriers and fundamentally changed our society. At VA, we are proud to spend this month honoring and celebrating women Service members and Veterans for their past, present and ongoing service to our country.

As the daughter of a Navy Veteran and someone who has had the privilege of working to advance Veterans for more than 23 years, supporting women Veterans feels very personal to me. My colleagues, mentors and friends are Veterans—many of them women Veterans. I am proud that here at VA, women are represented at every level throughout our organization. And while studies show that people typically imagine a man when they think “Veteran”—women Veterans have been around for much of America’s history.

Well before the women’s rights movement came along in 1848, women in the military were breaking barriers to serve our county. During the Revolutionary War, women served in military camps as laundresses, cooks, nurses and spies. Up until World War I, women served as soldiers disguised as men. During the last two years of World War I, women were finally allowed to join the military in their own right. Thirty-six thousand women served in that war, and more than 400 nurses died in the line of duty.

Today, about 219,000 women Service members are currently stationed throughout the world filling a diverse range of roles from radio operators, translators, and pilots to rangers. Times have certainly changed.

As the number of women in military service grows, so does the number of women Veterans. Today, nearly 2 million Veterans are women. As the fastest growing Veteran subpopulation, women Veterans are making their mark. Before 2012, there had been only three women Veterans in Congress in history. Today, a record six female Veterans hold office on Capitol Hill.

But while the success of our women Veterans is undeniable, the explosive growth in the number of women Veterans means VA must continue to adapt to better meet their diverse needs—and we are.

I spent the first eighteen years of my VA career in Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Service —and I know first-hand how essential it is that Veterans receive their benefits and services to put them on the path to a meaningful civilian career. It’s our job at VA to anticipate the services women Veterans need and to provide that to them.

For instance, women Veterans are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of businesses owned by women Veterans increased by 296 percent, to reach a total of 384,548 businesses, up from about 130,000. And the number continues to grow: over the past five years the number of companies owned by women Veterans has almost quadrupled.

I hope you’ll take a look at the Center for Women Veterans’ new Trailblazers Initiative, which celebrates the contributions of women Veterans who served our country—especially those who blazed a trail for others to follow.

At VA we are proud of our women Veterans, and we will continue to work to ensure that we anticipate and meet their needs as they continue to be a vital part of our military and nation. I extend my thanks to women Veterans who continue your service every day in big and small ways.

Author

Margarita Devlin

Comments

  1. Nancy Ann Barnett    

    I served in the WACs from 1964 to 1967. I met my husband at Aberdeen Proving Ground and we will be married 54 years in August. We were both sent to Okinawa. He went TDY to Vietnam and I was the WAC aide to the Commanding General of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa). I was trained as a stenographer. We later both retired from the Department of Defense at Eglin AFB, FL as civilian employees. Being in the military helped me to get a good civil service job and I am a proud Vietnam Era Vet. I will be 78 this year and am enjoying excellent health.

  2. Valeria Penny    

    A big thank you to all women veterans from every era. My name is Val and I served in the United States Air Force from 1984-1995. I went in right out of high school at age 17. I met some great and not so great people while on active duty. I went in for the purpose of gaining a college education. I completed Air Force Community College and earned my bachelor’s degree. I completed a master’s degree in counseling some years after separation from the military. I’m proud to have served my country. I have only used VA benefits for education. I’m also proud of all the women veterans who were bold enough to speak out about military sexual trauma and the mental/emotional trauma that goes with it. Shout out to all the Survivors and Overcomers!!

  3. Roger Hirsh    

    Honoring Virginia Navy, active duty, retired, veterans at http://www.facebook.com/Navy.Plate.Va Both my wife and daughter are Navy veterans.

  4. Adrienne Szulczynski    

    I joined the Navy in 1973, shipped out to Bootcamp Feb 1974. With the I’ll feelings that the country was feeling, my program didn’t get the GI Bill. I stayed in Reserves till 1980. I was a CTR and maintained a Top Secret Clearance. On reserve weekend and on my two weeks Reserve duty each year I assumed an active duty task, not just drilled. Mostly ComSec. It was the Cold War. If a ‘hot’ war broke out I’d be gone for the duration. Once out I continued my college pursuit that I interrupted to enter the Navy. Paying my own way while working, and thru two marriages, three children, it took me 37 years, on and off, to get my degree in 2006. The last seven of those years were under student loans. I’m 68 years old, survived breast cancer, heart surgery, two divorces, have worked a full time and part time job for the last 20 years and have 192 more monthly student loan payments of $367. I’ll be 86 when paid off. All I’d like is to see a little light at the end of the tunnel in a partial forgiveness/relief and a 6″×6″ plot to bury my ashes. Is that so much to ask?

  5. Betty Moore    

    Hello, everyone! My name is Betty and served from 1974 until 1984 as a Radio Communications (RM) specialist. My service was enriching and rewarding – I made friends from different cultural backgrounds and different countries (Puerto Rico was my favorite). Although I have lost touch with some of my military friends, I remember how much their friendships meant to me. I remember listening to stories from those who had endured combat. During that time, not many women were allowed in combat but by listening to the men speak of their experiences was the least I could do. One time I listened to a group of guys all night long! Tears, yes – bravery, yes! If I had to do over again, I would do the same thing – join the military and serve my country to the best of my ability!

  6. Gail Harlan    

    My Name is Gail Harlan I joined The Women Army Core
    1969

    1. Marrilynn Sharpe Lockett    

      I am also an enlistee of the Women’s Army Corps. 9 May 75

    2. Fran Laidlaw    

      Hello
      My name is Fran
      I served in the USAF as a Aeromed Tech( Flt surgeons) we were first response to aricrafts crashes

    3. Adrienne Windwillow    

      Is there some reason why USPHS and NOAA service members never seem to be included in these commemorations?

  7. Kimberly King    

    My name is Kim and I served on the Aviation side of the Navy from 1985 to 2007. I flew as a Loadmaster on 3 different platform aircraft and I remember a time when we flew to some base, a man on a fork lift saw me and said right to my face, “I’ll be damned if I am going to have a woman tell me how to offload that plane.”
    I remember someone telling me back when I had first joined that of all the groups of people in the world, women are the most discriminated against and the least apt to complain about it.
    Turns out some folks really didn’t care for women on planes either so my Master Chiefs gave me great advice. They told me to learn my loadmaster job so well, that I would be seen as the Airwing expert at what I did. Sure enough, that’s exactly what I eventually did and I now have to wonder if I would have tried as hard as I did without all the harassment.
    When I see parents coddle kids today, afraid to let them try when the odds seem quite against it, I am glad we did not grow up in that world.
    As for the VA… you have been SO GOOD TO ME! Thank you. And thank you for the great, concise article. A friend sent it to me. God bless America and my fellow women veterans!!!!

    1. Misty Hall    

      Good Day to All! My name is Misty and I served in the Navy Reserve from 1989 to 2005. I was a Loadmaster in the Fleet Logistics Support Community. Kimberly King was my instructor during training and my inspiration to become a Loadmaster. Because of her guidance, instruction, and encouragement, I became a qualified Loadmaster. She was and still is a friend and mentor to me. Thank you so much!

  8. Patsy Oliver Hall    

    Signal Corps, Ready always Ready. I am Patsy Oliver Hall and I was in the second cycle of females that proved females could train with men, and that we could be soldiers. Although it was a challenge for a lot of us, (Me) we fought thru the grit, mud, and all the simulated stages of real wars. I felt my father’s nightmares that he had from W W ll, and it made me appreciate him even more. I thank the military for this education. Today’s females have made further advances to the military’s quest for combined forces,. however, they should say well done, to the us the first pioneers female soldiers, not W.A.Cs nothing wrong with the( women’ corps either, thank you ladies.

  9. Jean McClellan-Chambers    

    My service was 68 – 69 on active continued as a military spouse til 85… so many do not realize a spouse is serving right along with the active duty member. Without that commitment, the service with family would not happen. I am proud of my decision to enlist during a time it was far from the norm for women. ALL women Vets have “dared to be different” a trait we carry forward our entire lives, we are trailblazers in some way or another. Our military service sets the bar of public service while on active or life after military service. Instills in us the courage to ‘lead’ in any endeavor we commit to. We may be few, a small percentage of the military BUT we can be some of the most courageous in so many way.
    We are a sisterhood of the few but proud veteran’s who served our country in time of need!
    The VA needs to recognize us as FULL veteran’s not as secondary incidental service members in both medical requirements and areas of compensation.
    To all my sister’s in arms, stand tal,l be proud, we are few but strong!

  10. Nancy Whipple    

    I left a small town in Minnesota when I was 18 (1972) to join the Navy, and looking back
    it was a not only a career building opportunity, but a personal growth opportunity. This was
    a very challenging time to be wearing a military uniform for anyone. Many people my age were protesting the Viet Nam war, including my 4 sisters who did not support my decision at all. When I wore my uniform at the airport, I received angry looks and called names that I can not put in my comment. Despite this aggression, I wore my uniform proudly. I went to Hospital Crops School in Great Lakes Illinois, and served four years at the National Naval Medical Center. Although I did not travel as much as I wanted to, I had at great learning experience.I met many people, including service men who came back from Viet Nam with terrible injuries. I do not regret a single moment. I used my GI Bill to receive my college degree. I also married a veteran ( who is disabled) and we are both retired enjoying the rest of our lives together. We also have a daughter who served 20 years in the service as a Hospital Corpsman. NO REGRETS!!! I would reccomend the service to any young woman who wants to serve their country. God bless them all!

  11. Rebecca Jacoby    

    I served from 1977 until 2008. I started as a Yeoman, cross-trained to become a jet mechanic. My brothers taught me, other taunted me, but I would never take back the memories, friends, comrades I had and still have. I helped open doors for women who wanted to serve, I traveled to so many places in the world as an aircrew person. I was a Loadmaster Instructor, I put a reunion together after our squadron moved from the Bay Area – it was a total success. I made my sacrifice leaving my son with my parents behind during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and thousands of hours I put into flying instead of being with my son. I served, was and still am proud to have served. 26 years with the Navy, and another 8 with the Air National Guard.
    It’s sad when I have to listen to some men in the same or other branches brag about themselves and what they have done – my sisters who were serious about the military understand. We don’t have to toot our horn, we know what we did, and don’t have to prove it to anyone! I saute all who served, and support all who still serve!

  12. John E Schmidt Jr    

    I never had any problems working with female members of the Air Force during my career. During thirty years of service,, I only had one assignment serving under a female officer and that was a great occasion to add to the skills and leadership education towards my own successful career;
    I always like to recall a young SSgt that I mentored during my final assignment, her final tour saw her as a Command Chief ending her final years of senior NCO leadership.

    The line up in the photo is incorrectly done. The Air Force proceeds the Coast Guard in Service order.

    Great article
    John Schmidt
    CMSgt, USAF Retired

  13. Cynthia Krebs    

    Thank you. My name is Cindy, I am an Army veteran. I served on active duty from 1981-1983. I also served in the Army Reserves from 1986-2001. I would not change a thing that I have done. I was a Medic, Administrative Specialist and a Drill Sargent. I have had my years of service thrown in my face when trying to better myself in the civilian world. Close minded people have become one of my biggest irritants. My children were made fun of in school because “their momma wears combat boots.” Hopefully, as time goes on, people will treat women veterans with as much respect as their Male counterparts receive.

  14. Patricia Lyons Moriarty    

    As a wife of a retired Naval Officer, I am alarmed and concerned about sexual assault in the military. I am disappointed that this article did not refer to this safety issue that military women face and how unfairly it is has been handled by the Military in the past. Just this week a former Navy pilot who now serves in Congress reported her assault by a person who out ranked her. This is appalling and should end now. This is a sad part of Military Women’s History in the Military and it should be addressed this month as we recognize Women’s History month. let’s expose the good and the bad and work with Congress to address this issue with more fairness and transparency

  15. harry coogle    

    A great big THANK YOU to these women. They did and are doing a great job. It was my pleasure to serve under and with many in my career(1968-1988). Gen. Norma Brown is probably the most notable.

  16. Marguerite Halttunen    

    I served in the Army from 1975-1979, I was 34, married with two sons when I went in. Basic training was tough, but I got through it. My first assignment was to Ft. Lewis, WA and then I got orders for the 205th Aviation Unit in Mainz, Germany. My MOS was 71L, Administration Specialist and I really enjoyed my assignments. After I got out I used my GI Bill education benefits. In my mid 60’s I lost my insurance benefits and that is what brought me to look into the VA medical benefits. I have not looked back, I get wonderful care at my local clinic. I also volunteer there once a week. I thank God every day for the VA. I too feel it is an honor to be a Veteran.

  17. Crystal D    

    Hi there, I loved being in the Army, but I didn’t go in because I wanted to advance women’s rights. I went in for the physical and mental challenge of it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and did. I learned how to be a leader, and show initiative at the same time. Right after I re-enlisted, I hurt my neck and shoulder in the line of duty, otherwise I would’ve made it a 20+ career. I went to PT, OT, did swimming and I improved some, but if you’re not 100%… After several years, I was given an honorable service connected disability. The day I hung up my fatigue hat, I cried and if you knew me, you would know, I hardly ever cry. I still miss it! But I am who I am because of my military experience, and I’ll never forget it. As a Veteran, I go to VA hospital’s, and there’s one thing missing from Women’s healthcare, and that is experienced Doctor’s and surgeons who really know about the disease, Endometriosis. I developed this years after my discharge, and when I tried getting care for it at the VA, I was met with skepticism and Gyn doctor’s who didn’t know what they were doing. It took six years for me to be diagnosed and another three years before the active Endometriosis was removed. But because of this 9yr diagnostic delay, I am still dealing with this disease. And yes, the medical profession does consider it to be a disease now. It has morphed into other pelvic pain generator’s, like Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. If anyone is reading this that can change things at the VA, so other women Veteran’s who develop Endometriosis can get the care they need, please do so. Thank You, Crystal

    1. Eugenia C. Inman    

      Crystal as a petroleum Supply Specialist, lifting heavy equipment, hoses, metal Pipelines, heavy metal valves, generators, blivits, tractor trailer tires, and hot/cold refueling aircraft, running a tank farm section, also laying out on/off shore equipment. This is how I served as a proud women veteran, but I did have Endometriosis which became noticed after I was out of the service. This caused pain and loss of work time. After surgery I was told that I still have a tumor on my colon which has not been addressed. I have faced, harassment, racism, and sexual harassment. I have faced physical injuries that have not yet been compensated for, but I have my dream of serving the veterans that fought before me, with me, and fighting still today. I am a VA nurse proudly serving. The VA is not perfect, but we are still trying to make a difference from the inside out. Thank you all for your service.

  18. Patsy Oliver Hall    

    Hello, my name is P. O. Hall, I thank the Creator, and the military for giving females the opportunity to serve our country. I am very proud to say that I was among the second cycle of females that were trained as soldiers. It took a while for the military to adapt to training women with men, but it was done. We endured a lot, but we persevered. People still find it unbelievable that I, a really prissy female ,became a soldier. I am a warrior, “pret tojour pret” ready always ready!

  19. Sandria White Hughes    

    Hi, my name is Sandria and I served in the US NAVY RESERVES for 28 years. Those 28 years were the most rewarding of my life. I did not want to retire, but due to health problems, I was forced to. I will never forget the many challenges and outstanding opportunities afforded to me during my tenue. I owe what I learned from the Navy and the people who touched my life a great deal. I was proud to serve my GOD, country, and family. Thanks so much for that wonderous opportunity.

  20. Diantha Zschoche    

    I served as an officer in the Navy from 1971- 78 right after college. When I was commissioned I was one of only 13 black women officers on active duty at the time. Admiral Zumwalt brought all 13 of us to D.C. to a conference to ask our input on how to encourage more black women to join. My class in 71 was the last one for the Women’s Officer Candidate School in Newport RI and we began to share some classes with the men. I only joined to get the G.I. Bill for graduate school with an initial 2 year commitment but stayed 7 going from reserved to regular Navy. Many of the women officers I knew were some of the first to train as pilots and go on ships. I found I enjoyed the life and only left because I felt God called me out to be part of a Christian ministry. I was stationed in San Diego 5 years first at the then FLT COMPUTER CENTER PACIFIC and then as staff of the original CREDO program. Then 2 years in Millington TN as a training instructor for the then Human Resources Management School. I am proud to be a veteran and to have gone to Graduate School with several of the POWs who came home. 7

  21. Linda borgetti    

    Hi my name is Linda I joined the Army in 1977. I enlisted to be a wheeled vehicle mechanic and I broke barriers because this was a non traditional job for women. Then I renlisted 1981 to be motor vehicle operator another non traditional role. I have seen women break so many barriers and do much better jobs and work harder then men. I retired as a SGM with so many different opportunities and adventures along the way knowing there is no job I can not handle. I thank every woman in all branches of service for paving the way for other women.

  22. B594    

    Hi my name is Emily. Served in the Army from 62-64 and from 76-92. Saw active duty in Germany (twice) Korea (2ndID) twice and, stateside was Tinker Air Base , Ft Lewis and Ft Sill. Loved the military way of life.

    1. Lydia Rucker    

      Hi my name is Lydia and I service in the Army from 1979 to 1986 right out of High school.Basic training at Fort McCellen,So and station at Tobbyhanna, PA and moved to Fort Hood, Tx 47th Medsom and 428th Medsom.Parmesan,Germany.went U got out.

  23. Lynda J Hester    

    Hi – My name is Lynda and I am a retired USCG veteran who served from 1981 to 2003 (22 years). I met my husband in the service and he retired 2 years before me.We both came in through the enlisted ranks and went on to become officers. I was with the second group of women who went to ships and it was challenging but I am glad I survived and was able to make changes or be part of the solution rather than just see the obstacles. Serving on active duty for 22 years made me a stronger person and I am proud to say that at many commands I was the only woman, the senior woman, in a mentoring role as a leader for both men and women. I considered it an opportunity and a challenge to be able to overcome and make changes that would impact others as they came along after me. Thanks to all the women who paved the way for me and for those who served with me to make things better for others.

  24. Col Bobby Moorhatch    

    Well Done! Short,concise, and to the point. My wife was a 24 year retired Air Force officer. I am quite aware of the struggles of Women in the military She was . a graduate of the first Air Force AFROTC program at 10 Colleges and Universities Circa 1958 (10 cadets at each school)–Only four graduated–the program was not a success–my wife was commandant of the George Washington University detachment where two others graduated with her and there was one other from a Midwestern College. She retired as LT.Col. and decided to try civilian life with me while I was still on active duty. She was a great advocate for equality and dignity for all Women serving in the military. Colonel Bobby

  25. Sylvia J Strickland    

    I am a USAF veteran from 1964 to 1968. I married an airman in 1965 and he retired with 21 years and I am fortunate to fall on the benefits of the USAF retirees. My assignments were Lackland AFB, Amarillo AFB, Lackland AFB, Seymour Johnson AFB and the last one was Hickham AFB. I was fortunate to be able to get the assisgnments that my husband received. Seymour Johnson in NC only had three of us women because women could only go to certain bases if they were married. We were limited where we could be assigned back then. I am glad that women now have more and more rights. Yes we were some of the ground breakers and it was really fun and a good life. The military life has always been good to us. One of the reasons I did not stay to retire because if you got pregnant during that time you had to get out of the Air Force and we decided when we got married that I would fulfill my term and then work on having a family. It is a honor to be a Veteran. Sylvia Strickland

  26. Sandra S. Annis    

    THANK U SO MUCH. I’M A VIETNAM VETERAN 1965-1966!!
    I still sometimes don’t know how to except the quote(thank u for your service)!! It was bad when I first came home especially being a WOMAN VETERAN!! I got to where I stop putting it on job applications!
    I’m getting better Thu. I know most of the ones that THANK ME ARE THE YOUNGER GENERATIONS!!

    1. Bob Padgett    

      Thank you for serving. I remember very few women military when I was in Vietnam USAF 68-69. That was a tough place to be and I can only imagine how much tougher it was for women in that environment.
      It is rather noticeable that acknowledgement of service in Vietnam is generally from the younger generation. I suppose the anti-war generation cannot bring themselves to speak up, yet expect forgiveness from Vietnam Veterans because they erroneously thought of us as animals and warmongers. We were only serving our country by sacrificing years of our lives. Thanks again for your service.

    2. Betty J Van Geest    

      There was a real stigma for women returning to civilian life after Vietnam which doesn’t get much press. It was the kiss of death on a job app or housing app as well. I don’t know what they thought we were doing during the war, but it was definitely unsavory. I’m sorry for the added trauma that must have cost many Vietnam Era Veterans.

  27. Gloria E Martinez    

    Hi, my name is Gloria. I served in the Army from 81-93. If I now what I didn’t know then , I certainly would do it all over again. I had a rough time in Basic Training. I was 17 at the time. I am now suffering from STPTSD. I never thought I could say that about my disability out loud. At first it was hard telling my story and ashamed, now it’s a little easier because I am seeing a therapist and physicatrice and I thank God that the VA is here for me. God bless America.

    1. Sandy Mayfield    

      I also served in the Army during the early 80’s. I was freshly divorced and 19 years old. I thought being in the service would help to give me a sense of belonging and confidence. Unfortunately I to experienced MST and have PTSD. What started in basic training continued thru out my time in the Army. I know now that I didn’t do anything wrong or do anything to encourage the humiliation or prejudice just because I was in a “man’s” environment! I was the only female in my platoon and instead of being able to do what I was trained to do (generator repair) I was reassigned to be the motor pool clerk, which is the military term for secretary! I praise the women who were able to stick it out and make careers in the Armed Forces. You are the true inspiration to all women who want to serve our great country. I wish I had been able to make a career in the Army, but I wasn’t. Thanks to a wonderful counselor, I am working thru the mistrust, anxiety, and night terrors. I will always struggle, but at least I have the support now that I didn’t have back then. Thank you to all of our service men and women for their service!!!

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