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American Servicewomen in the Global War on Terror

The Memorial’s newest exhibit, which pays tribute to America’s servicewomen serving in Afghanistan and Iraq opened Nov. 11 and will remain on display indefinitely. It offers a brief glimpse of some of the women who have been a part of America’s response to the September 11, 2001, attacks and the ensuing Global War on Terror. At the time of the terrorist attacks, over 15 percent of America’s military were women. Serving in nearly every rank and unit of the force, and filling critical warfighting positions, women were among the first to deploy to the war zone. The exhibit is but a chapter in the ongoing story.

Autobiographical in nature, the exhibit is a snapshot of the daily lives and work of today’s military women serving in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Painting a picture of the “War on Terror” as experienced by them, the array of artifacts is as diverse as the women themselves. They tell the story of MPs, truck drivers, construction engineers, medics, civil affairs specialists, pilots, cooks and chaplains, among others—they tell the story of today’s military women.

A plethora of donations poured into the Foundation following a “call for artifacts” earlier this year. “The wonderful thing about this exhibit is that it is organic,” said Lee Ann Ghajar, the Foundation’s curator of exhibits. “We have received hundreds of photographs and artifacts, and numerous oral histories from women who are or have served in theater. We’ll be able to rotate objects in the exhibit to reflect the varied experiences of the women who have served there,” she said.

Located in exhibit alcoves on each side of the Great Niche, a combination of information panels, images and excerpts from oral histories, along with uniform displays and table-top exhibits that house some of the many unique artifacts received, make this powerful exhibit come to life for visitors. Focusing on three primary areas—daily life, work and combat—visitors learn about individual servicewomen’s experiences in theater, including women like Army SGT Valerie Dorsey. Recounting her time in Iraq, SGT Dorsey said, “I am a female paratrooper, a non commissioned officer, a leader of soldiers. My main mission is to train and lead soldiers into combat, not just on the battlefield, but in their daily lives as well. I am the mother, the sister and mentor to my soldiers.”

Artifacts used in the exhibit range from military-issue Bibles to campaign medals and polarized goggles to a deck of cards featuring photos of insurgents used for quick identification by US security troops. Also, numerous items representing the local culture have been donated, including an Afghani prayer rug and keepsakes from local bazaars. Other items highlight some of the new roles of women in war, including combat flight. Standing against a backdrop of mosquito netting used in the region is an American flag that was carried by women pilots on board US aircraft during three separate combat missions, in honor of all women of the US Armed Forces. Also, “The Baghdad Diaries” shows how 21st Century technology keeps America’s troops in touch with loved ones as they serve their country from half a world away. This display features copies of e-mails sent by USMC MGySgt Rosemarie Weber telling her family and friends about her daily life during her deployment in 2003.

A special section of the exhibit pays tribute to the women casualties of today’s war. This section is located in the Memorial’s Hall of Honor, a solemn place of honor and recognition for women who died in service, were POWs or were recipients of our nation’s highest awards for service and bravery. Flanked by uniforms of fallen Army soldiers SPC Lori Piestewa and PFC Sam Huff, is a book containing Women’s Memorial registration printouts of the servicewomen who have died since the war began. You can also honor the memory of one of these fallen servicewomen by giving a love offering.

Servicewomen, their families or friends who wish to donate artifacts to the Women’s Memorial Collection from Operations Enduring or Iraqi Freedom, or any other service era should contact Britta Granrud, Curator of Collections, at 703-533-1155, 800-222-2294 or collections@womensmemorial.org.

December 2005

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