VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System hosted a ceremony in observance of this year’s Women History Month by recognizing Women Veterans within our communities. The ceremony took place March 2, 2018 at the VA Health Care Center at Harlingen, Texas.
“Women Veterans represent an enduring legacy of leadership, service, and sacrifice,” said Joe A. Perez, director of VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System. “This event is our way of honoring the sacrifices and contributions made to our country by Women Veterans from all generations past and present.”
The Harlingen High School All-Female Army Junior ROTC Color Guard stands by ready to present the colors for a VA ceremony in observance of national Women’s History Month.
The free, public event began with a presentation of the colors by the Harlingen High School All-Female Army Junior ROTC Color Guard followed by a beautiful rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Rebecca Arismendi, which drew loud cheers and applause from the crowd. She was followed by an invocation by active Navy Petty Officer Corina Tristan.
Chief Petty Officer Teresita Garcia, the senior enlisted leader at Navy Operational Support Center in Harlingen, was the ceremony’s keynote speaker.
Garcia spoke about the milestones achieved by the more than two million women who served throughout the nation’s existence. She spoke about Army Capt. Kristin Griest and Army 1st Lt. Shaye L. Haver who broke the barrier that had prevented women from fulfilling combat roles by becoming the first women to meet all the requirements to complete Ranger School and earn their Ranger tab.
She also provided the audience with examples of women Veterans who not only dreamed about reaching for the stars, but also succeeded in capturing them as she mentioned Veterans like Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays who in 1970 became the first woman in the U.S. armed forces to be promoted to the general officer ranks.
Chief Petty Officer Teresita Garcia the senior enlisted leader at the Navy Operational Support Center in Harlingen, Texas, delivers her speech to more than 200 people attending the event.
Garcia made sure to provide an example from her own service as well by referencing Admiral Michelle Howard, who recently retired from the Navy in January 2018, but not before breaking another barrier by becoming the first female four-star admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy in 2014.
“Women Veterans hail from all walks of life representing diverse national origins, races, religions, ages and abilities. Many of them have chipped away at the barriers they’ve faced – sometimes against great odds,” said Garcia. “As an active-duty member in our armed forces, I take great pride in serving our country during an era where I can turn to young girls and provide them with plenty of examples to remind them that they too can reach for the stars.”
Nine Women Veterans were presented with the VA Community Leadership Award, which officially recognized the outstanding support, commitment and leadership they have provided to Veterans and their families from within the various communities served by local VA health care system.
The Women Veterans selected by the local Women’s History Month committee were Thalia Hernandez, Cameron County Veteran service officer from the San Benito office; Gina Guajardo, a former Army police officer and Veteran peer provider from Tropical Texas Behavioral Health in Harlingen; Lupita Maciel Perez the junior vice commander for District 18 for the Veterans of Foreign War and a national legislative committee member for the VFW; Marine Corps Veteran Tracy Wisdom, a Veterans clinical therapist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Counseling Center, who organizes Veteran outreach efforts and coordinated community-based services, including information and referral for additional services from other VA programs, other government programs and community agency programs and Arlene Laboy an Army Veteran and founding member and first president of the local Veteran service organization, Veteran Females United. Laboy, unfortunately, could not attend the event.
Director Joe A. Perez shakes hands with Lupita Maciel Perez who was honored with a VA Community Leadership Award.
The remaining four recipients included four female Veterans from Brownsville that went above and beyond during Tropical Storm Harvey during their attendance at the first Female Veteran Summit in Houston.
They were Army Veteran Maria Osorio, Marine Corps Veteran Brenda Saldivar, and Navy Veterans Nora Bard and Josie Commack.
The event also featured information booths with representatives from the Women Veterans Health Program, Mental Health, and Health Promotion and Disease Prevention programs. After the ceremony guests were invited to the third floor of the center, which housed a photo exhibit of black and white portraits featuring local Women Veterans, which will remain open to the public till the end of the month of March.
“The event was very nice. It was exciting to see so many Women Veterans from different eras,” said Danielle Aly, a VA employee and Army Veteran who led everyone in attendance in reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance”. “I felt very proud to have participated in the ceremony. I think the VA did a great job in honoring Women Veterans, and I hope they continue to do more events like this in the future.”
Army Veteran Ms. Laura B. Vela, stops by the information booth manned by Kathleen Libke (Women Veteran Program manager) and Aleli Duque (Women Health Care coordinator), who provided information and educational material regarding Women Veteran health matters to guests.
All photos by Luis H. Loza Gutierrez.