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Rainville: "Too Many Women Let Others Limit Their Dreams"

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2001 – Ask Maj. Gen. Martha T. Rainville and she'll confirm she's the first woman to serve as a state adjutant general in the 360-year history of the National Guard. Then she'll add, "But really, so what?"

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Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Martha T. Rainville, adjutant general of Vermont, said if she wrote her own epitaph, it would read, "Born a woman, lived a person." Photo by Rudi Williams.

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For most of her military career, Rainville hated being singled out as a woman for any reason, she told her audience March 15 in the Pentagon auditorium. She was keynote speaker at DoD's observance of National Women's History Month, "Celebrating Women of Courage and Vision."

Rainville said she always wanted to be judged as a military officer on her ability and performance. Her opinions haven't shifted since she became adjutant general in Vermont. Among other things, she's responsible for the training of Vermont Army and Air National Guard members and is the state Guard's inspector general and quartermaster general. She manages a state appropriation of $2.4 million and a federal budget of $74.1 million.

She said she's no longer concerned about being "the first woman adjutant general. What really counts to her thousands of people, she said, "is the caliber of my leadership, the strength of my character and the power of my vision. They depend on me to lead the way toward their future. It doesn't matter if I am a woman or a man as long as I can deliver!"

In stressing the contributions women have made to the nation, Rainville invoked the names of women who have excelled in their fields, like author Lillian Smith, whose works helped educate America on the effects of racism.

LaDonna Harris, she said, devoted her life to raising awareness of the conditions faced by Native Americans and ran for vice president in 1980 under the banner of the Environmentalist Citizens' Party. Rainville also mentioned Maya Lin, the 21-year-old Yale student who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"Today, we can see many women contributing to the success of their companies, their government and their communities," said Rainville, a native of New London, Conn., who was raised in Port Gibson, Miss. The mother of three now resides with her husband and children in St. Albans, Vt.

The holder of an honorary doctorate of humane letters from St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt., Rainville said she has gained a special education and awareness by meeting the public. Since becoming adjutant general, she has spoken to Girl Scouts, businesswomen, women's financial working groups, teens, Rotary and Lions clubs and other organizations.

"The message I have received loud and clear is that, today, there is still a tremendous need for role models of successful women for our daughters ... and our sons," Rainville said.

She told the audience about meeting the mother of a young girl who had taped a newspaper photo of Rainville to the refrigerator. The picture had been taken after the Vermont legislature elected Rainville as adjutant general.

"(The girl) felt that if I could do it, so could she," the general said. "That blew me away! How would you feel knowing your picture was featured in a stranger's kitchen?"

The mother said how great she thought it was that her daughter had someone to show her she could do anything if she really wanted to. Though flattered, Rainville was also upset in a way.

"Why would she doubt that? Why did the daughter limit her dreams to the ordinary?" the general asked the audience. "I'm afraid that we don't realize the enormous impact we have on others, especially children. As role models, our words and actions imprint themselves permanently."

She said she learned a lot about human nature in 1998 when Vermont was hit with a vicious ice storm and the National Guard was called up. A small town opened its American Legion Hall to provide shelter for the troops, and women's auxiliary members cooked for the troops.

"I have warm memories of them because those ladies turned into my personal cheering section and morale building unit," Rainville said.

When she entered the hall to check on the status of generators and other aspects of the operation, the women would gather around her and say things like, "Have some coffee, have some cookies, dear, you must be cold," the general recalled.

"Then they would chuckle and their voices would drop to whispers as they told me how thrilled they were that I -- a woman -- was the boss of all these men!" she said.

"They weren't politically correct, but they spoke from their hearts and their own experiences," she noted. "Despite equal opportunity legislation and increased awareness of diversity issues across America, little has changed for many women, young -- and old. And if it hasn't changed for women, it hasn't changed for men.

"Our children still view occupations based on gender," she noted. "Too many women let others limit their dreams, and that is a waste of talent. This great nation of ours needs the talents and gifts of all its citizens to continue to thrive. Tough challenges face us and the solutions lie in our diverse strengths."

Rainville pointed to fellow Vermonter Consuelo Bailey as a woman who was ahead of her time and an example of what women can accomplish. Bailey served as speaker of the Vermont House and then the nation's first woman lieutenant governor.

"She helped pave the way for women to serve in government and for society to accept that service," Rainville said. "She once said that she wished her epitaph would read, 'Born a woman, died a person.' Think about that. To be thought of as a person, judged according to your ability and performance."

In this new millennium, aside from pockets of traditional thought and practice, everyone is supposed to have equal pay, equal rights and is free to be whatever they wish, Rainville said. She quickly questioned the truth of that statement.

She said the country is applying historical solutions to today's women and today's issues, and that must change if women's contributions are to be saved. Therefore, she said, "Women's History Month" is still necessary.

"It's important for us all to recognize the inconsistencies women and men must deal with when addressing issues of diversity and equality," she said. "We have certainly come a long way, but there is still a ways to go!"

Rainville said if she wrote her own epitaph, it would read, "Born a woman, lived a person."

Sixth-grader Terika Ingram, 11, received a standing ovation after reading her award-winning Women's History Month essay. Ingram is a student at Washington's John Tyler Elementary School, where DoD personnel support an active mentoring program. The deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity sponsors the annual essay contest at Tyler.

Ingram received a $100 Savings Bond and a certificate. Rainville presented her a special coin from the Vermont Army and Air Force National Guard.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir National Guard Maj. Gen. Martha T. Rainville, adjutant general of Vermont, chats with sixth-grader Terika Ingram, who read her award-winning essay during DoD's Women's History Month observance ceremony. Ingram is a student of Washington's John Tyler Elementary School. Photo by Rudi Williams.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJulia Baxter, 80, receives a commemorative Pentagon crystal from Charles L. Cragin, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, at DoD's Women's History Month observance ceremony in the Pentagon. Baxter, honored March 15, 2001, holds the Bronze Star Medal for her service as a field hospital nurse during the Korean War. "I thought we could symbolically thank all (the nurses) who served by thanking you," Cragin told her. She served from April 1945 until she became pregnant and was discharged as a major in 1959. Photo by Rudi Williams.   
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