Fort Eustis soldiers honor military women at event
By COURTNEY CAMPBELL | The Daily Press (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 5, 2016
"Why are you here today," Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West asked an audience of military members at the Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis on Thursday, speaking for the 596th Transportation Brigade's Women's Equality Day observance.
West is considered a trailblazer in the armed forces as the first African-American female lieutenant general and is the highest-ranking woman to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy. She currently is the surgeon general of the Army and commanding general of the Army Medical Command.
West commanded the McDonald Army Community Hospital at Fort Eustis from May 2003 to March 2005. Her resume made her an obvious choice for the Women's Equality Day speaker, said Zachary Shelby, who works in public affairs at Fort Eustis.
"I would suggest that observances like this allow us time to take pause and think about something that is outside our regular area," West said. "We don't take the time to observe what has happened in our society to allow someone like me to distinguishly stand here."
In 1971, Congress designated Aug. 26 as Women's Equality Day by order of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) as a commemoration for the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Though the designated day is later this month, Thursday was the only available time West was available.
Lt. Gen. Nadja West's was the guest speaker during the 597th Transportation Brigade's Women's Equality Observance held at the Transportation Museum on Fort Eustis Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016.
West said during her speech that successful leaders have learned that a group of diverse humans are better problem solvers than completely like-minded individuals, allowing for more opportunities for growth.
She paid homage to Abzug, who spent her lifetime focused on public service and activism on behalf of the oppressed and ignored as well as the women who had the "crazy idea" to amend the constitution.
West spoke of the women before her who began setting the pace for women in the armed forces, such as the first 62 women who received their diplomas from West Point in 1980 and Janet Wolfenbarger, the first woman to have a four-star general rank in the Air Force.
"I would not be here today if I did not understand and appreciate and also benefit from these women and the men that supported them," West said. "I appreciated your kudos to me and my cohort, but these are the women who really made a difference."
Originally only two percent of women were allowed to join the military with limited roles, according to West. Today, 14 percent serve in uniform.
"There are many small contributions every day, many well out of sight of stories, all helping set conditions for women and to set opportunities that are increasingly becoming available," West said.
At the end of her speech, West asked the audience to reflect on how far America has come in its short history in regards to equality as well as to challenge themselves to make a difference.
"Truly I thought her speech was epic," said Maj. Connie F. Bell of the 689th Transportation Detachment. "A lot of people inspire you, but when you see that someone is the first to do something, you want to know how they do it and when you meet a trailblazer you're all inspired."
Though woman have come a long way in terms of gender equality in the armed forces, West said she wants to see more of them in all occupations, but understands there will be challenges along the way.
"I envision women in the Army to do whatever job they are qualified to do," West said in an interview after the speech. "Then we don't need determining is this a job for a woman or a man, just this a job for a qualified soldier. I think we're really close to getting there."
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