Changing the Face of Courage
More than three million women are serving or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the American Revolution, but the stories of these courageous patriots are often unknown. For the most part, history tells the stories of service members who were men, and the service of women goes unrecognized. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial (WIMSA or Women’s Memorial) is on a mission to change that. We aim to broaden our ideas of what courage looks like and open dialogue to explore how women contribute to making a safer and better world.
“During my deployment to Iraq from 2003-2004, I did signals intelligence as an Arabic linguist. I also went on combat foot patrols with an infantry platoon in Baghdad, and I translated for Iraqi civilians who were severely wounded when unexploded ordnance detonated in their neighborhood. To me, though, none of this was particularly courageous — I was just doing my duty and helping accomplish the mission.
Upon my return, I found that the American people were largely ignorant of the role women were playing in combat, so I took on what was a much more frightening role: telling my story and becoming a public advocate for military and veteran women. My first book, Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army, came out in 2005. I used the platform of being a published author to push for increased equality in the military by speaking out in support of rescinding the combat exclusion policy, repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and eliminating the ban on service by openly transgender servicemembers.
After struggling for years to support my combat-injured spouse, I published Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War. In that volume, I shared the excruciatingly intimate details of life with someone wrestling with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury in order to push for improved support systems for wounded warriors and their families.
For me, speaking truth to power as an individual has required far more bravery than serving in combat as part of a team—but it's worth it to support a higher purpose and fight for what is right.”
“I served in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer from 2000-2006 onboard the USS JARRETT (FFG-33) and USS DENVER (LPD-9). We deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On both ships, I was one of a handful of women. The bond with fellow women sailors definitely helped me get through long days at sea and long bridge watches.
Following active duty service, I really wanted to continue to serve the community. Making the transition wasn't easy, but I found my calling in serving veterans like me in the state of Illinois. I joined the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in Chicago, where I am currently the Director of the Veterans Program. As a woman veteran, I have the opportunity to not only advocate and help fellow veterans but also to ensure that women veterans are not overlooked. By helping veteran causes, I am able to continue making an impact in a community which has had such a great impact on me."
“I come from a very long line of military members—my 4th great-grandfather in the Revolutionary War, a 2nd great-grandfather in the Civil War, an uncle in World War II at Iwo Jima. My Uncle Adam Tymowicz was shot down over France during World War II only to be MIA in the Korean War, and my father Thomas was in the Navy on the USS Courtney. I followed in their footsteps.
When I was in boot camp, I had a bladder and kidney infection. My company commander saw me falling behind, and she started running with me. ‘Never quit,’ she said. ‘You keep going, girl. You push and you will finish this.
Once I returned home from service overseas, I felt lost—like I had no meaning in my life. Then I discovered cycling as a way to raise money for my fellow veterans. During a 61-day ride east, I felt like I had meaning again. After that, I cycled solo 3,042 miles from San Diego to St Augustine, Florida, and raised $30,680 for my veteran brothers and sisters.
Those same words that got me through boot camp got me through this, as the have gotten me through many other challenges throughout my life.
Although I’m no longer in that Navy uniform, I still want to express my support for my fellow veterans. I feel that once you have served in uniform, you are always in uniform. You take that oath for life.
I would do it all over again if I had to, with no hesitation, just like many of my fellow veteran sisters and brothers would."
“I was assigned to the International Military Training Team (IMATT) in Sierra Leone to provide humanitarian assistance. My work also included monitoring political elections and providing riot control when necessary. I never thought I would be responsible for driving through multiple roadblocks while choking on tear gas and doing my best to avoid injury to myself or my team as we worked to successfully deliver the future President of Sierra Leone. In the moment, I was scared. But that fear gave me the strength I needed to to make it through.
Honestly, that night in Sierra Leone seemed like the most courageous moment of my life — until I had to look cancer in the face back at home. Several years after Sierra Leone, when “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” was lifted, I married my beautiful wife and we decided to have a family.
While I was six months pregnant, my wife was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemo and radiation at Walter Reed. Our healthy baby girl came a month early, my wife beat the crap out of cancer and I retired from military service. We spend every day grateful to have so many loving and supporting people in our lives. And I’ve learned that it’s the battles closest to home that require the greatest courage."
“My strength and courage is participating in this project—sharing my story of being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. I want people to see me as the person I am, not as a victim. I’m a Military Police Officer. I am expected to display constant courage. But as a survivor, I am able to go beyond that and empathize with the people I help. I show them my strength and courage in hopes they will find their own."
“I served 27 years in the Coast Guard. The scariest time for me in my career was sending my teams of young men and women out into the field and hoping we did our job in preparing them to take on the mission, successfully face the myriad challenges that lay in front of them, and return home safely to the unit, their friends and most importantly their family.
I did not get where I am alone…along the way I had family friends, mentors, good leaders and bad managers—and I learned from each and every one. To me, leadership is ensuring I raise those that follow in my footsteps and provide them with the necessary training, encouragement, and mentorship to be able to assume my job, and be even more innovative and successful at it than I have been. I want to pave the way for future generations and I want those who follow to be able do the same. Success is leaving the position and realizing you have accomplished that goal.”
“When I arrived in Germany as a green Ordnance Corps second lieutenant, a Colonel greeted me with disgust. ‘I don’t want you in my army,’ he said. He expressed a hostility many shared for integration in the military. Some days it took courage to report to work. But those ugly days eventually receded. Feelings of anger, fear, and doubts were crowded out by a growing sense of strength, determination, and perseverance, with the support of people like Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Brick, a no-nonsense combat veteran who demanded the best of everyone and counseled me through those difficult post-Vietnam times. Challenges remained, but those early lessons served me well. I became the first female Assistant Army Attaché and the Army Attaché at the US Embassy in Beijing.”
Dr. Olivia Hooker
“Today we honor Dr. Olivia Hooker, who recently passed away at age 103. Dr. Hooker helped break down others’ perception of courage throughout her whole life. As a child, she survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. She went on to become the first black woman to enlist in the Coast Guard in WWII. After the war, she earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and a doctorate at the University of Rochester. She was a professor until she retired at age 87.
You see there were no people of our race in the Navy—no girls—we had been campaigning for that privilege, but nobody joined. I kept watching the newspapers and I thought, to campaign for certain civil rights and then not use them is very feudal. Somebody ought to be joining up after the campaign, but nobody did! I thought if I did go and survive maybe someone else will come. Although I had applied for the Navy, they kept writing back saying there is a technicality. They didn’t tell me what the technicality was. So, I said let me try the Coast Guard. And the Coast Guard recruiter was just so welcoming, she wanted to be the first one to enroll an African American.
I didn’t know anything about the military going in, and I didn’t know many people who were not of my hue, and it was good for me to mix with other people and find out how they thought and what they were like. It taught me a lot about order and priorities. I’d like to see more of us realizing that our country needs us. I’d like to see more girls consider spending some time in the military. It’s really nice to have people with different points of view and different kinds of upbringing—the world would really prosper from more of that.”
“I was more than just a soldier, I was a single mother continuing her education and serving in the Army on active duty. The experiences I had in the military shaped me as a young professional, a non-commissioned officer, a trainer, and an adviser.
I think about the people that mentored me during my time and how their influence and support gave me the courage to push through tough times, like deployments, duty assignments, and family separations.
Their guidance allowed me to demonstrate outstanding leadership to my fellow soldiers and prepared me for a rewarding career beyond service. I know now that you must have the courage to step out and take the path less traveled. There may have been moments in my career I could have done things a little differently, but, overall, I am proud of the choices I have made.”
“My service dog’s vest says, ‘America’s VetDogs,’ which often leads to people to asking me, ‘Are you training him for a veteran?’ Then I take the opportunity to gently remind them women are veterans too. All too often women veterans are reached across by good-intended, patriotic Americans who want to shake our male comrades’ hands and thank them for their service. Of course the men deserve the thanks. Women do too. Sadly, we’re not the image that instantly comes to mind when someone says, ‘veteran,’ and we often go overlooked. That’s all changing through programs like my Veterans Portrait Project and Women in Military Service for America’s story documentation and archive endeavors. Both are special to me because they’re helping redefine our Nation’s image of a veteran."