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IAVA | March 21, 2022

READ: Memorializing the Military Achievements of Women

Written by IAVA CEO and US Navy Veteran Jeremy Butler

Throughout my 20 years of service in the Navy, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside many brave, resilient, and inspirational women. These servicewomen — more than 345,000 of them — who have deployed since 9/11 have been central to the past and continued success of U.S. operations, fighting tirelessly to protect all Americans. 

The achievements of women in the military are vast, stretching back for centuries, and have been demonstrated in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), which began in the wake of 9/11 to fight against those who sought to export terror. Yet, their contributions and sacrifices continue to be largely ignored in the telling of American history.

The world has changed significantly since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom over 20 years ago, and the same is true for our military. While the number of male veterans is expected to decline in the coming decades, the population of women veterans will continue to increase, adding to the ranks of nearly 2 million women veterans in the U.S. today. Although women have served in the military in many roles for over 200 years, there have been a lot of “firsts” for them in recent years. 

Opening up all combat positions to women, the first Silver Star awarded to a female soldier since World War II, the first women graduates of the Army Ranger School, and the first woman four-star general, are some of these “firsts.” These distinctions are groundbreaking, but the fact that they’ve only occurred within the last 25 years is reflective of the gaps in opportunity and recognition for different genders in the military. They serve not only as a reminder of the great strength of women in the military but also of the many barriers that they have had to breakthrough. 

We need to ensure that women aren’t excluded when it comes to documenting history or expressing gratitude for those who served. And with Congress having recently authorized the construction of the GWOT Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., we, as Americans, have a unique opportunity to do so. 

This authorization is only the opening move in a 24-step process before the monument can be built, meaning that now is the time to speak out to guarantee women veterans are aptly represented. The GWOT Memorial is intended to be an inclusive, reverent, and apolitical place of honor for the veterans and their families who have served in the GWOT, presenting a historic opportunity to recognize and honor the contributions of women who fought for our nation. We urge Congress to ensure that the GWOT Memorial safeguards the legacy of women servicemembers among American heroes throughout history.

Representation of women in military memorials is essential. Past and current servicewomen have provided the same strength of character and commitment to the country as their male counterparts. Still, they have not received the same public awareness of their service — a known problem that needs to be addressed. 

Speaking as both a veteran and the CEO of a veteran service organization — Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) — a majority of the veteran community have demonstrated their desire to prioritize issues impacting women veterans. VSOs and nonprofit organizations, such as IAVA, have been working to establish equitable awareness and access to VA benefits for servicewomen and veterans. The construction of a memorial on the National Mall represents a significant opportunity for change. 

In building the GWOT Memorial, the Global War On Terrorism Memorial Foundation should gather inspiration from the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month, “providing healing, promoting hope.” This should act as a reminder as to why women need to be represented in military tributes for the actions they have taken during their service to heal, protect and provide for our country and the world.

This piece was originally published by THE HILL on March 19, 2022.

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