Women are an essential part of our armed forces and our community of veterans. Throughout history, women have served in various capacities in the military. The first American female soldier, Deborah Sampson from Massachusetts, cross-dressed as a man, disguising herself in order to fight alongside men.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Women have served in America’s conflicts and wars throughout history, including America’s War of Independence, also known as the American Revolution. Wives, mothers and daughters followed their male loved ones into battle serving as cooks, seamstresses, launderers and nurses.
During the Spanish-American War (1901), the nursing corps was institutionalized as a support unit to the Army. This was the first formal recognition of women in the military. World War I was the turning point for women in the military because of the significant role they played as nurses which also affirmed their importance and presence.
The women of the past paved the way for today’s female veterans. Approximately 10 percent of veterans are female, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Most living female veterans served during the Gulf War II and during peacetime. Today, women are able to serve in a variety of positions, including direct combat.
The opportunities for women to serve in the military continue to grow, as women break down barriers, accomplish goals and show the world how tough we are.
Active duty service women and veterans have support driven by federal and local organizations, but more importantly, they need community support. It is our duty to recognize and support veterans because they have sacrificed so much for our comfort and freedom.
As women veterans adjust to normal life after serving in the military, it is vital that they are shown gratitude through help and support. There are a variety of local events in the Rochester area that offer support and recognition for veteran contributions that have made our country stable.
The Rochester Chapter 28 Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the Olmsted County Veterans Services hosted the very first Women Only Veterans Evening Gala on May 18th, 2017 at the Canadian Honker Events Center at the Kahler Apache. Women represent the fastest growing group of veterans, and the gala is an event focused on building connections between these women.
“Jennifer Shumaker, Olmsted County veteran services officer, was instrumental in the logistics and planning of what we hope to be an inaugural event,” says Frank Chiarini, adjutant of the DAV chapter.
Jennifer Shumaker mentions, “As someone involved in the southeastern Minnesota veterans community, I have long been concerned that one area of our veterans has been underserved, and that is women veterans.”
There was an overwhelming amount of community support present during the event—including door prize donations, guest speakers and entertainment provided by comedian Allison Gill. Jennifer recalls her favorite part of the event as “the success of many women making connections with other veterans in the community, which they would not have known prior to the event, in addition to women being recognized and celebrated for an entire evening.”
GOLD STAR FAMILY AND WOMEN VETERANS
Rochester native and woman veteran Ashely Laganiere is the Gold Star family and women veterans coordinator for southeastern Minnesota serving approximately 26,000 women veterans. The mission of this program is to ensure women veterans have equal access to federal and state benefits and services.
On May 25, 2017, Ashley, along with other women who have served filled the Ramada Plymouth Hotel and Conference Center to share the day with fellow sisters in arms for the Minnesota Department of Affairs Annual Women Veteran Conference. Ashley shares that the event was “open to all Minnesota women who have served or are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, every branch and era.” The conference featured guest speakers and provided the opportunity for veterans to obtain information about benefits and resources that their military service has earned them. Supporting families from every era is important because many families and veterans have not been adequately recognized or thanked.
Ashley illustrates the importance of the Women Veterans Program through advocacy and providing a variety of opportunities to veterans and coordinators. She says, “I am also hosting the National Association of State Women Veteran Coordinators Conference in June. This event brings together state women veterans coordinators from around the nation to discuss the current issues facing women veterans.”
IRONWOOD SPRINGS MIRACLES HAPPEN FEST
Ironwood Springs shows support and honor to veterans through their Operation Welcome Home program throughout the year, which offers free retreats to veterans and their families. Also, during the Miracles Happen Fest in July, Ironwood Springs dedicates a time during the middle of the day for families to pay tribute to veterans through donations and recognition.
Jaimi Stejskal, Ironwood Springs director of programs and marketing, says, “The Miracles Happen Fest is our way to honor, remember and thank our veterans for the sacrifices that they and their families have made.”
This year Dana Bowman, retired Sergeant First Class with the U.S. Army, will be opening the military tribute with his skydiving exhibition and inspirational message. Dana was a Special Forces Soldier and U.S. Army elite parachute team member. He tragically lost both his legs in a training accident in 1994. Nine months later, he turned his tragedy into a triumph when he became the first double amputee to re-enlist. Miracles Happen Fest is the event you won’t want to miss on Friday, July 28 and Saturday, July 29. More information about the event and veterans tribute can be found at mhfest.com
A simple thank you can make a huge impact in a veteran’s life. If you know a woman veteran or see someone in military uniform, say something to show your gratitude or support one of the many events happening in our Rochester community.
Brittney Marschall works for Olmsted County and is a freelance writer.