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Don't Be A Lady ... Be A Legend
by U.S. Navy Lt. Ayifa Brooks
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) Public Affairs
June 15, 2021

On June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Women's Armed Services Integration Act allowing women to serve as regular members of the military. On May 5, 2017, Representative Victoria Neave filed House Bill 2698, establishing Women Veterans Day as a day to recognize and honor women veterans throughout the state of Texas. The first Women Veteran’s Day was held June 12, 2018, marking the 70th anniversary of President Truman’s Act.

While women have served in the United States military since before America became a nation, they were not officially recognized as military members or veterans until 1948. Women were originally relegated to serving in the civilian fields of nursing, laundering, mending clothing and cooking. Despite this segregation, many served in war zones alongside their male compatriots, and some even dressed as men during the Civil War and fought on the front lines.

One such woman who served on the front lines was laid to rest during a burial at sea ceremony aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) on June 11, 2021. U.S. Army, Lt. Col. Nancy Christ, a decorated veteran in the nurse corps, from New Brunswick, New Jersey served for 20 years, from 1961 to 1981. Christ deployed to Miami, Florida to assist in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Nancy Christ is committed the sea during a burial at sea ceremony on USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) aircraft elevator #3, June 11, 2021. During the ceremony, the cremains of 15 veterans were committed to the sea in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Angel Thuy Jaskuloski)
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Nancy Christ is committed the sea during a burial at sea ceremony on USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) aircraft elevator #3, June 11, 2021. During the ceremony, the cremains of 15 veterans were committed to the sea in the Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Angel Thuy Jaskuloski)

She also completed two deployments to Vietnam and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars in addition to one Bronze Star Medal. She was also awarded the Army Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. During her time in service she was involved in creating the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“It is a privilege to be a part of a time honored tradition to lay our brothers and sisters to rest”, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Kenny Liu, from San Jose, California, said about Ford’s burial at sea ceremony.

The first woman to enlist in any branch of the military was Loretta Walsh, who enlisted in the Navy in 1917. She served as a "Yeomanette," a female version of a yeoman (YN) or ship's secretary. Following her were twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker, and Myrtle Hazard, U.S. Coast Guard; Deborah Sampson, U.S. Army; Opha May Johnson, U.S. Marine Corps; and Esther McGowin Blake, U.S. Air Force.

Throughout the years, women's roles have continued to grow in all branches and phases of military operations. Now, they serve freely alongside men in any branch or role they desire. Today, women make up 20 percent of new recruits, 16 percent of personnel serving on active duty, and 19 percent of the National Guard and reserve forces.

“I didn’t know until recently that there was a Women’s Veterans Day, said Cmdr. Tanya Cormier, Ford’s Supply Officer from Thousand Oaks, California. If I had to use two words to describe what this day means to me, they would be “grateful” and “opportunity.” Grateful to the many brave women who made the opportunities women have today in the military possible. During my 19 years of naval service, I’ve had the same opportunities, professional requirements, and performance expectations as my male counterparts… I’ve never felt limited by gender!”

Cormier added, “I can't say I have a single "most impactful moment" serving as a senior female officer. I was fortunate to have wonderful mentors coming up through the ranks, both women and men, and it's my goal to be that mentor to young officers today. And if I have, or will, inspire young women to believe that they can be anything they set their mind to, including a military officer, then every one of those moments they believe in themselves, those are my most impactful moments.”

The women veterans, who served with pride, created an impeccable legacy that active duty service members continue through today. Notable legacies in the U.S. military include: first female fighter Air Force pilot Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, first female Commanding Officer of a Navy ship USS Opportune (ARS-41) Lt. Cmdr. Darlene Iskra, and first female to command an aircraft carrier, Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt.

“For decades, being in the military has been viewed as a “man’s job” - a job that women were not strong enough mentally, physically, and emotionally to handle. Yet still, many women made the brave and honorable choice to go against that perception, and emerge themselves into a culture not intended for them,” said Seaman Brooklyn Robb, assigned to Ford’s deck department from Tampa, Florida. In doing so, those women proved just how valuable and effective they were to the success of the mission. Those women persevered and earned high ranking positions as well as lead successful missions, earning acknowledgement and respect for women in the military, inspiring all women, both military and civilian. Women’s Veteran’s Day is a day dedicated to honoring those women who paved the way for future women of the military like myself.”

Robb added, “My most impactful moment as a junior sailor was being nominated for Blue Jacket of the Year by my department. Having been in the Navy for a short time, you hear about Blue Jacket awards, you might even know someone who won one, but you never think it’s going to be you. At least not until you’ve gained years of experience and knowledge. However, being a junior Sailor nominated for such an honorable and selective award really motivated me to keep working hard, and I hope it was motivational for other junior sailors as well.”

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