RICHMOND, Va. –
Women veterans, including former and current members of the Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force, received pins recognizing their service during the Virginia Women Veterans Week kickoff event March 21, 2022, at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia.
Dozens of women veterans were honored with a “Virginia Woman Veterans Lead the Way” pin during the ceremony led by Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, who served in the United States Marine Corps. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and retired Lt. Col. Daniel Gade, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, were also on hand to recognize the women for their service.
“We thank you so very much for your service because we’re not expected to do it, but of course women have always been in the fight,” said Earle-Sears during the ceremony. “We women don’t take the backseat to anyone, do we? We take our place right up front because you know what they say - the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. We carry the future.”
“Women veterans have been part of our nation’s history from the very beginning,” said Gade. “Today we celebrate women who have all given us big shoes to fill. We have much to celebrate today as we kick of Women’s Veterans Week.”
Gade was injured twice while serving as a tank company commander in Iraq, forcing the amputation of his right leg. During his remarks at the ceremony, he thanked the uniformed women who helped save his life on the battlefield.
“When I was wounded a second time, at least two women, and probably a whole lot more than that, were directly responsible for me being alive today,” said Gade. “There was a Navy surgeon who was the person, when I ran out of blood and they needed to go to the mess hall to get more, by asking Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines to get up from their dinner and come donate blood, she was the one who went and made the announcement, she was the one to round up all those donors. Then, a Navy flight surgeon flew with me from the place where I was to Baghdad, and during that flight the helicopter came under enemy fire. Some of the systems failed, including the automatic breathing machine I was on. So this young Navy nurse hand ventilated me using a bag and kept me alive during that flight.”
Earle-Sears, born in Jamaica and the first woman to serve as Virginia’s lieutenant governor, pointed out that while women have not always been able to serve in uniform, they’ve always played a role in America’s military.
“When we couldn’t go to war, we became the Rosie Riveters, did we not? When we couldn’t go to war, we stitched the flag,” she said. “We helped our husbands to ensure that they were helping to really try to form that more perfect union.”
For VNG 1st. Lt. Lindsey Otto, the operations officer for the Richmond-based 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, attending the ceremony was a chance to pay respect to the women who made her military career possible.
“I’ve met the Women’s Army Corps, from before the gender integration in the military as we know it today,” explained Otto. “I met dozens of women and I heard their stories about before they could be Soldiers. I just admired these women, not only for opening the door to something that means so much to who I am today, but also because their story wasn’t one I had ever heard. Any opportunity I have now to open that door a little wider, and to see the women who have put in to a history that doesn’t really get a lot of attention - I feel honored that I can be the next legacy or next chapter in that progress.”
Otto said it’s eye-opening to see so many women veterans come together for recognition.
“Just to see these faces I might see at a gas station and not recognize and realize that they’re so integral to me having the opportunities to be who I am - I’m overwhelmed with gratitude,” Otto said.
Earle-Sears said that the women in attendance, both still wearing the uniform and those who don’t anymore, will continue to play a vital role in everything they do.
“We’re going to continue to lead. Even though some of us no longer serve in uniform, we serve in other ways. We continue to serve, and we carry those skills we learned in our various military branches with us,” said Earle-Sears. “We know how to get it done. We know about words and phrases like ‘attention to detail.’ We know words like ‘hurry up and wait.’ We know words like ‘it’s the NCOs who get it done.’ We know about taking initiative. We can be counted on. And we know, that if there comes a time that we have to fight, we’re going to do that too.”