March 26, 2009

Women and diversity celebrated in Virginia

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — In the late 1700’s Deborah Samson enlisted in the Continental Army and served there honorably for several years during the Revolutionary War, becoming the first woman to serve in the U.S. Military. Samson served more than a year and a half before being detected as a woman, thus becoming the first woman to be discharged from the Army.

The women of "Star Spangled Girls," a traveling show honoring women in the military, perform their show for guests of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Richmond, Va. "Star Spangled Girls} is based on the Women Veterans Historical Collection at UNC Greensboro's Jackson Library. (Photo by Spc. Geoffrey Dudley, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Many firsts for women in the military have come and gone since the days of Deborah Samson, which is why the Virginia National Guard Equal Employment Office held their Women’s History Month program March 19 at McGuire Veterans Affairs Hospital in Richmond, Va. to pay tribute to the many sacrifices and firsts made by women in the military and to celebrate Women’s History Month.

The program placed special emphasis on military contributions made by women who served American forces during WWII through a performance of “Star-Spangled Girls,” a short musical, with a cast of five women compiled from the memoirs and letters of 37 women veterans.

The play represents the women veterans as they share their memories of basic training, service at home and overseas, love and segregation in the military through song and spoken-word.

The women in this play expanded on the legacy of the various women and paved the way for future generations to serve their countries with pride, according to Air Force Capt. Antoinette Allen, state EEO manager. “History is full of women who have fought and led troops into battle.

Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, the Adjutant General of Virginia, meets with the performers of "Star Spangled Girls" at a presentation of the show at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Hospital in Richmond, Va. The show was part of the Virginia Guard's focus on women in the military. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“I think this an appropriate vehicle which we acknowledge and recognize and even celebrate the contributions women make to our country,” said Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia.

The first woman to join the Virginia Army National Guard was Pvt. Linda Dornbush in 1973. On completion of basic training she become the first female Soldier in the state and started a succession of many firsts for women in the Virginia Guard. Dornbush was assigned to the 2120th Public Information Detachment in Richmond.

Dornbush’s enlistment paved the way for the future of women in the Virginia Guard. In the ‘70’s women began taking of professional development at the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy at the State Military Reservation. In 1976 the NCO Academy graduated five female Soldiers.

Performers from the show "Star Spangled Girls" entertain guests at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Hospital in Richmond, Va., to pay honor to women in the military. The show is based on the memoirs of 37 women veterans and their experiences during World War II performed and produced by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina. (Photo by Spc. Geoffrey Dudley, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Throughout the years women continued to serve honorably in the Virginia Guard in Various roles. In 1990 when the Guard deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm 52% of the 104 Soldiers deployed from the 183rd Personnel Services Company were female. One of these women was Pfc. Pamela Gay, who became the first Virginia Guard female to die on active-duty when she was killed in a traffic accident.

One of the largest first achievements by an enlisted female in the Virginia Guard occurred in 1996 when Sgt. Maj. Janet S. Salotti became the first female in the commonwealth to hold the rank of sergeant major.

While enlisted females have been making headway in the Virginia Guard for over 35 years, commissioned officers have been making their own history in the Guard. In October 2001 Lt. Col. Janice Igou was appointed to command the 429th Support Battalion, becoming the first woman to command a battalion in the state force.

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