Tribute To Military Women – Memorial Day Speech

VBC Iraq, dust storm 2010 (c) Dianna Skowera 2013
VBC Iraq, dust storm 2010 (c) Drea Damara 2013

Hello everyone, Happy Memorial day for the upcoming weekend.  Here is a speech I will be giving this Memorial Day for a special tribute to military women.  Hope you enjoy:

I am very honored and humbled today to be allowed to give a tribute to military women, and even more that I was asked to do so by a man.   Memorial day serves to honor women and men who died in service to our armed forces.  There are a lot of women that I would like to honor today, but technically I cannot.  They were never allowed to be called soldiers, airmen, or marines because…they were women.  They were allowed to serve our military and to die for our country, but just not allowed to be called defenders of freedom with a uniform.    If you search, you can find the number of service women and men our country has lost in armed conflicts, however, you will not be able to find a figure for the number of civilian women our country has lost during armed conflicts.  I think this is very important to point out.  Wouldn’t it be a crime if we stopped remembering our service members in the future?  Now imagine having never acknowledged them in the first place.

The first active military position allowed for women was not until 1901 when the women’s army nurse corps was established.  This was the first and only position in which women were allowed to serve actively in the armed forces.   In 1920, army nurses were first granted the right to be promoted to and wear the rank of officers.  However, they were not allowed to receive the military privileges and financial benefits afforded to male officers.

Recently we have seen the allowance of women into combat roles in the military.  Yet I now find memorial day this year a fitting day to celebrate that legislation because to me it is the greatest tribute to women who have supported our military.  It means that we have finally made it legal for women to do what they have been doing since the formation of this nation.

For almost 200 years, American women have stood up and said I will defend this nation without question, without pay, without the national identity of a uniform, and without rank or privilege.  They stood up and packed their bags and followed the men of this country into every conflict that we have been involved in.  When I reflect on this, the part that would terrify me at night, were I any adversary of this nation, is that for the majority of our 200 year history, not only did these women do nearly everything our servicemen did…but that they were crazy enough to do it…without any weapons.

It’s difficult to honor military women and not cite equality or gender issues, although I rather would not because I always saw myself as just another soldier-not a woman.  Yet here I stand today speaking specifically about women, separating them from the herd.   I wrote to the twelve women with whom I served in my unit of 140 soldiers in Iraq and asked them a series of questions regarding their role as women in the military to help give me ideas for this speech.  Expecting some awe inspiring comments I could pull from each response to share with you, I had to laugh once I collected all of them.  What I learned from their responses is that I may have offended each one of them by asking them their view as women.  In short, the summary of each response to most of my questions were:   I was just a soldier, not a woman.  My favorite was:  Being a woman shouldn’t make you good or bad at your job, if it does you just need to become a better human being.  I know personally the struggles several of these women faced simply because they were women, and what humbled me in reading their viewpoints was that they didn’t view their own plights as I did for them.  There was no mention of inequality and no mention of the duress of war in any of their letters.  They could have sent you any message today, shared any story, but all they wanted was to be remembered…as soldiers.

I am of the youngest generation of veterans, but I have learned that there will always be basic human instincts in life.  The instincts parents have to worry for their children.  The instinct of chivalry for a man to open the door for a woman.  The instinct to defend what we hold dear to our hearts.  These are things our nature cannot change.  I could not imagine standing in front of a building that is on fire and being told I could not help.  I could not imagine being sent to a war without a weapon.  For the countless freedoms I have today that millions in this world do not, I thank the service men and women of our country.  For never having to imagine denying that primal instinct of defending my country and the people I love, I thank the women who have served in and supported our military.

I stood in a miserable dust storm during a mortar attack in Baghdad one night and as I waited patiently for it to be over so I could get back to work, the man standing next to me looked at me and shook his head as he laughed, “This is no place for a woman.”  I said nothing, figuring I wouldn’t change his mind and shrugged, but he kept looking at me as though he wanted a response and he added, “Well, I’m right aren’t I?”  I thought for a moment, but couldn’t find a reason why he was wrong.  I said, “Yes, you are right.  War is no place for a woman…and it’s also no place for a man.”

I would like to close by thanking each and every woman who served but was not allowed a place in the military, those who history has not written about, whose death has not been counted, who was seen as a woman and not a soldier, and who more likely than not was never thanked for the specific freedoms American women have today that others do not.  The actions taken by the women who have supported our military in so many different capacities throughout the existence of our nation have made the future for female soldiers much easier to face.  I ask that they forgive us for remembering them as women for this one day, but I know that they will…because they are soldiers.

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