I was signing in at the welcome desk of the airport USO. “You can fill in right there,” the volunteer said, pointing to an item on the electronic sign-in, “your husband’s branch of service . . . or yours.”
“Just me,” I told him, “no husband. I’m the one that served the 25 years.”
Even those very familiar with the military are never quite sure whether a woman is a veteran or a spouse. My friend Nico – Austin resident and an inspirational athlete – shared with me a story from her adventure cycling (in her case hand cycling) across the United States with a group of Wounded Warriors. As they pulled into one city for the evening an event supporter said to her, “Thanks for helping out our boys.” Little did the supporter know that Nico, a bomb dog handler, had suffered a blast which put her in a wheelchair for three years (she’s walking on her own now), gave her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that might cause her to forget the hours-long conversation you had with her the day before, and gave her enough internal injuries to plague her with surgeries for years to come. Still, she can’t wait to recover from the periodic surgeries enough to train, lift weights, row, hand cycle, hike, and participate in a variety of other activities. “If I didn’t have sport and athletics,” she has said, “I doubt I’d be speaking to you. I’d probably be in a fetal position in a corner someplace.”
Nico’s leadership, role modeling, and example are inspirational for anyone, so let’s not forget her service, or that of the other 3 million women who have served this country throughout its history. I’ll be bringing you more of their stories; and among those stories, tips for leading, tips for effective communication, and tips for successful approaches to diversity and inclusion in your own organizations.
“These are they who followed their husbands and brothers to the field of battle and to rebel prisons; who went down into the very edge of the fight, to rescue the wounded, and cheer and comfort the dying with gentle ministrations; who labored in field and city hospitals, and on the dreadful hospital-boats, where the severely wounded were received; who penetrated the lines of the enemy on dangerous missions; who organized great charities, and pushed on our sanitary enterprises; who were angels of mercy in a thousand terrible situations. . . . There are many hundreds of women whose shining deeds have honored their country, and, where they are known, the nation holds them in equal honor with its brave men.” From Women of the War; Their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice by Frank Moore published in 1866.