The Importance of Capturing the Stories of Women Veterans” is the second of three collaborative blog posts featuring authors from the VA’s Center for Women Veterans, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) and a sailor whose story is preserved among the permanent collections of the Library of Congress. The following is a post by Kayla Williams, director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans. The first post, “Making a Difference,” is available here.

When my twin nephews were young, they went through a phase of fascination with all things military, idolizing soldiers and wanting to play war. “I was in the Army,” I offered, excited to be able to share some of my experiences with them.

“No way!” they exclaimed in unison, “You’re a girl!”

If it were an isolated incident from two young children, I could easily have dismissed it. Sadly, however, the presence of women in today’s military and as Veterans remains unrecognized by many adults as well. “This parking is for Veterans, lady,” read the note someone left on the windshield of a woman who served in the U.S. Navy when she parked in a spot designated for Veterans.

image of Kayla Williams promotion

Kayla Williams getting promoted to Sergeant in Tal Afar, Iraq, December, 2003

When many of these small incidents combine over the years, their collective weight can make women Veterans feel invisible and unrecognized, their service unappreciated. That may make them less likely to take advantage of the VA care and benefits they have earned.

Women have always constituted a minority presence in the military. Many may not know that the law limited our participation to 2 percent for decades. It increased to roughly 15 percent of the total force by the early 1990s, and has hovered there since.  Today, we make up just under 10 percent of the total population of Veterans. Unfortunately, our presence in military histories is even smaller; we are largely omitted from many narratives.

Capturing and sharing the tales of women who have served our nation ensures that they are not erased from history and do not become invisible. The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress, where women’s stories are also underrepresented, offers a wonderful opportunity for us to partner to tackle this problem. Women Veterans and their supporters can learn how to participate and contribute an oral history and/or other items for their collection. Anyone interested in hearing our stories — students, scholars, family members, history buffs, advocates and more — can search the archives or browse through the project’s Experiencing War web features, which include themed collections of digitized stories, such as Women at War, Women of Four Wars and WASP: First in Flight.

I urge you to answer the first lady’s call for women Veterans to tell our stories. The Veterans History Project allows us to do just that—to share our stories and shape our place in the narratives of American history. Tell your own story. Encourage the women in your life to share their military experiences and to declare, “I’m One – I am a Proud Veteran;” then record and submit their stories.  Peruse the stories shared by others.  Together, we can raise awareness and transform our culture to appreciate women’s proud tradition of service and sacrifice.

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Published on Sep. 1, 2016

Estimated reading time is 2.8 min.

Views to date: 115

2 Comments

  1. Graciela Tiscareno-Sato September 14, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Kayla, Amen to ALL of this. Thank you. “Capturing and sharing the tales of women who have served our nation ensures that they are not erased from history and do not become invisible.”

    This is EXACTLY why I, as the daughter of Mexican immigrants turned Air Force officer and aviator, have decided to create the first-ever bilingual children’s picture book series about women in the military. There are simply not enough books in our nation’s classrooms that demonstrate WOMEN’S service to the USA. Therefore, we’re invisible to children, teachers and adults in that community, unless it happens to be a school located near a military base where children see women in uniform. Then, when Veterans Day rolls around in November, the children will either see the husband of one of the teachers and his military buddies from the VFW year after year (as happened in my children’s school until the day I showed up in my blues when my kiddo started kindergarten) OR they’ll have a book read to them, very likely featuring another man in uniform. This does nothing to provide positive role models for girls.

    I’m out to change all that by telling my aviation service story in Spanish and in English, while exciting children everywhere about service and aviation careers! When I speak at schools, I do assemblies in English, Spanish and frequently both. You should see the young Latinas’ faces light up when they realize this is ACTUALLY a career option for them IF they go to college. :-)

    You can read all about this unique literature, see the six awards won so far, the White House honor (Champion of Change, Woman Veteran Leader), my congressman talking about my military career and the first book (Good Night Captain Mama) on the floor of the House of Representatives at CaptainMama dot com. Our second title, released in summer, is “Captain Mama’s Surprise” – it just won First Place in the “Most Inspirational Children’s Picture Book – Bilingual” category at the 18th annual ILBA in Los Angeles. NBC News featured it in this story: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/here-are-some-18th-annual-intl-latino-book-awards-winners-n645481

    I would love to chat soon about how your mission to showcase the stories of women veterans aligns with my mission to do the same via bilingual children’s literature. Thank you again for this focus on WOMEN who have served!


    Graciela Tiscareño-Sato
    USAF Captain, Veteran, Publisher

  2. JIRRI Roberts Sanders September 2, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    I was one of the first 40 females to do combat training with the men at Fort Dix New Jersey October 1978. Proudly I profess my service and there is not a day that goes by that I do not share my experience with others.
    Although they were not ready for females to to be there we were part of a test a research.
    Unknowningly we took part in this research to learn later that we would be disabled for life just as soon as we received the vaccinations.

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