VA's Women's History Month celebration honored 15 female veteran trailblazers

Julia LeDoux
March 08, 2019 - 11:04 am
Women Trailblazers group

Photo by Julia LeDoux

To kick off Women’s History Month, VA’s Center for Women Veterans honored a group of women veterans at the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Wednesday.

Among the honorees is retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, who helped spearhead the construction of the memorial and one of the most decorated female veteran in U.S. history, according to the VA.

“I believe so strongly in the mission of the memorial,” she said. “I want to see it grow. I want more people to know about it, particularly those women who served in the past and their families and those women who serve today.”

In addition to being the first woman to deploy with an Air Force bomber unit, Vaught, 88, was also the first woman to reach the rank of brigadier general from the comptroller field.

Retired Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught
Photo by Julia LeDoux

Vaught recalled a quote she read years ago about World War I veterans who didn’t fully realize the importance of their service until nearly two decades after the war ended.

“A period of time has to go by for you to look back at what you did and you see the difficulties, you see the accomplishments and you see what it means to other people," said Vaught. "Finally, you fully realize what it means to you.”

15 women veterans from all branches were highlighted in the VA's campaign, "Trailblazers: Women Breaking Barriers."

 “You are being recognized today because you really are trailblazers and you are an inspiration to all the women who stand on your shoulders,” said Pamela Powers, chief of staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Several of the women being honored have started nonprofit agencies, serve the communities where they live, or have tackled such important topics as military sexual assault or mental illness, Powers said.

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Retired Army Col. Patricia Collins was among the honorees. She served as a communications officer from 1991 to 2015. After returning to the U.S. from a deployment to Iraq, Collins was hit by a car while bicycling to work. That accident left her a below the knee amputee but did not prevent her from continuing her military service. Following rehabilitation, she deployed to Afghanistan and commanded a signal battalion.

“You have to set an example and make the path just a little bit easier for the people who come behind you,” she said.

Retired Maj. Kyleeanne Hunter, one of the first the first Marines to fly the AH-1W “Super Cobra” helicopter, now fights for gender equality in the armed forces. She said she chose to serve in the military for several reasons.

“It’s a path I chose because it was difficult, it was challenging and because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” she said.

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