Focus on Women Veterans
“To all of you women veterans, know you are not invisible to us,” Georgia Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Patricia Ross emphasized at the Georgia Salutes Women Veterans event in Vidalia on January 4.
Ross is a retired colonel in the United States Air Force, Chief Operating Officer of the Veterans Education Career Transition Resource (VECTR Center), former Vice Commander of the 78th Air Base Wing of Robins Air Force Base, and former Deputy Director for manpower, personnel, and services for Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command at Robins Air Force Base. She spoke to the women on the significance of being female veterans.
“We don’t do enough for our women veterans,” Ross told the audience. “In fact, for the most part, women veterans are invisible. You didn’t see one of us walking down the street with a ball cap on that said, ‘I served in Desert Storm.’ You would never know we were in the military, and that does a bunch of things to us as women.”
Identity crisis was the crux of women’s struggles after leaving the military, according to Ross. “Women usually have a crisis of identity when we transition from the military service,” she explained. “I was in the Air Force; that very much was my identity. But I’m also a mom, a wife, a friend.”
She told the audience that the public also tends to view women differently in society, and very rarely expects them to be a part of the Armed Forces. “When I got out of service, I worked at the VECTR center. Often, when people came into the Center, I was told, ‘Oh, you must be the secretary, how do I get help?’” she remarked. “Usually, I had to tell them, ‘No, I’m the boss, I did serve in the military. Yes, women served in the military.”
She turned her attention toward her fellow female veterans. “Each one of these ladies has voluntarily given up her time and her life to supporting our nation’s freedom,” Ross noted. “We’re not eligible for the draft — that hasn’t changed — and so you know that every one of these women has decided to do a very big thing.
“If I had to choose one word to describe these women, I’d say ‘courageous,’ ” she said. “I don’t know if you all have ever thought of yourselves as anything special. I know I didn’t think I was anything special during my time in the Air Force, being a woman in the military. Although there were not many of us, I felt just as much a part of my branch in the service as I hope you did yours.”
She concluded, “Courage — my definition and many others’ definition — is not the absence of fear. Courage is doing something hard despite being afraid. I daresay going into the military as a woman, especially in some of the eras that these women have joined the military, is beyond courageous, and they did that because they had a calling to something greater than themselves.”
These courageous women were recognized one-by-one during the pinning portion of the ceremony. Each honored veteran received a certificate and a unique Women Veterans Pin that was designed by an artist in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who had worked on previous pins to honor veterans of World War II and the Korean War.
The initial minting of this rare pin occurred in Spring 2021, and the pins quickly became dispersed all over the nation. Upon receiving five of the pins, Georgia Department of Veterans Services Senior Office Manager Debra O’Neal planned to give the pins to women who came to her Lyons office; however, when she received the next set of five pins, she stored them with the previous set and began planning a small ceremony to honor local women veterans.
“I wanted to show these women that they matter and recognize them for their service,” she shared. O’Neal now has received a total of 20 pins, which allowed her to honor 16 women in the ceremony, as well as Commissioner Patricia Ross, Department of Georgia Veterans of Foreign Wars Jr. Vice Chairman Patsy Schreiber, and Director of the Women Veterans Office in the Georgia Department of Veteran Services Veta Brooks.
These pins were presented by State Representative Leesa Hagan (R-Lyons) and Mayor Doug Roper. The ceremony also featured the National Anthem, sung by Cindy Reddick, and musical entertainment performed by Erica Branch.
O’Neal spoke of her delight in the success of the event. “We are very pleased to honor these women for their sacrifice and dedication to the United States Military and our country.”