Saturday, March 23, 2013

Carlsbad WAC continues to support female veterans

by Tech. Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
Air Force News Service

3/23/2013 - FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- In the 1940s, women's roles in the military were much different than they are today. Women's auxiliary units had just begun to integrate with the service branches and people were concerned about how females serving would affect the nation. One southern congressman even addressed the House saying, "Who will then do the cooking, the washing, the mending, the humble homely tasks to which every woman has devoted herself; who will nurture the children?"

Prior to World War II, women serving in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and similar organizations, did not receive comparable benefits and compensation to their male counterparts. In 1943, the War Department created the Women's Army Corps as an official branch of the Army to help bridge those gaps.

Since then, women's roles in the military have expanded and women have been accepted as valuable and equal members of the services. But one thing has remained the same: some female veterans don't identify as being veterans.

In an interview with NBC News, John E. Pickens III, the executive director of VeteransPlus, said women veterans "are misunderstood and challenged in a number of ways. Typically, folks look at male veterans returning as warriors who we need to honor and say we need to do what we can for these warriors. Women, unfortunately, don't carry home that same mantel as a warrior. But they certainly have served beside the men and, in many cases, have done a lot of things that put themselves as risk."

Dr. Lynn Ashley, who served as a WAC in Carlsbad, N.M., encourages her fellow female veterans to stand up and be recognized for their service to their country.

Ashley, a Chicago native, joined the WAC because she wanted to do something to serve her country. Her brother was serving overseas in the war and she wanted to do her part to support him. She went to basic training in Oglethorpe, Ga., and after being trained as a clerical typist, she was one of about 45 WACs stationed at Carlsbad. She served there for two years, until the war was over and then returned to civilian life.

She went back home and got married and began having a family. Ashley said she became engrossed in family life and began thinking about her time as a WAC less and less. But After about 30 years of being out of the service, the spark in her was reignited.  She began attending national WAC conventions, but that didn't satisfy her need to support female veterans, so she and a fellow WAC reached out to the governor of their state, Ohio.

Originally, their goal was to get money from the state for the Women's Memorial in Washington. They didn't get the funds they had hoped for, but instead the governor appointed them to the Department of Veterans Services' Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.

"One of the things we did is a study on women veterans in the state of Ohio," Ashley said. "It found the same issues going on then that veterans are dealing with now - lack of recognition, lack of support, low income, finding a job, getting housing. There were women who had master's degrees who couldn't find work. That's why I've continued to support women veterans."

Through her local American Legion chapter, also she helped lobby to open up combat positions to women. This year, to Ashley's satisfaction, the Defense Department officially did just that.

Nearly 70 years after her own service in the military, Ashley continues to encourage, support and educate female veterans.

"You're not a half a Soldier, you're not a half a person," Ashley said. "You have the same rights as anyone else has, no matter what gender. You've served your country."

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