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Women Preserve America's Freedom

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 1998 – "These women, from Korea to Kuwait and from Sarajevo to San Diego, ... are preserving America's freedom in ways that their mothers and grandmothers could have only dreamed," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said March 5 during DoD's Women's History Month observance.

As Cohen praised the courage and will of present military women, he didn't forget those mothers and grandmothers who broke barriers and paved the way.

"One of the proudest moments for our military in the past year occurred very close to home," Cohen said. "That was when we were gathered at the Arlington [National] Cemetery to dedicate the Women in Military Service to America Memorial, a very much overdue symbol of the nation's gratitude."

While reflecting on the triumphs of past and present military women, Cohen made a strong statement for the future. "Armed with the lessons of their leadership, we should redouble our efforts to ensure our military is fair to all people," Cohen said. "We have to be clear. We cannot tolerate and will not tolerate racism. We will not tolerate brutality. We will not tolerate sexual harassment or abuse."

The theme for the observance is "Living the Legacy of Women's Rights," marking the 150th Anniversary of the Women's Rights Movement.

Keynote speaker Tipper Gore, wife of the vice president, shared a personal story telling how she learned about women in the military.

Mrs. Gore remembered when, as a little girl, she read about a girl disguising herself as a boy so she could go to war. "It didn't occur to me that maybe there was another way," Mrs. Gore said. "She could go as a girl."

One story that is rarely told in history books is the story of military women, she continued. "Their struggle for their right to defend our nation goes back to the very beginning of this nation when women often disguised themselves as men so that they could go and fight battles and go off to war."

And what of our heroines, Mrs. Gore asked. "The names of our military heroes are very familiar, and they will always stand strong and inspire us. They should. But others' names should be added." Names like Clara Moss, Mary Walker and Marie Rossi.

Mrs. Gore recalled Rossi, an Army helicopter pilot during the Gulf War who made the ultimate sacrifice. "In a CNN interview just days before her death she responded to the question about how was it to be a woman facing such danger. Her answer was that it was her job," Mrs. Gore said. "There was nothing peculiar about her being a woman. She was just the person called upon to do it -- the job."

In the last five years, the barriers to women's services have fallen at an incredible pace, Mrs. Gore said. Some of the firsts include, Sheila Widnall, the first woman to serve as a service secretary (the Air Force) and Air Force Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman named to command a space shuttle discovery mission.

Today women are deployed in every theater, including Somalia and Bosnia where women serve as battalion commanders, Mrs. Gore said. "Military service, historically the proving ground for women who do not believe, who will not accept life's barriers, have broken ground and paved the way for all women. And we thank you."

Mrs. Gore appealed to military women serving today not to let the doors even partially close and to open even more.

"You are the ground breakers. You are truly the inspiration for future generations," she said.

After all the talk about military women, Mrs. Gore didn't forget military men. "I want everyone to know that their work, particularly in times of crisis as well as in times of peace and sometimes in times of in between, is so extremely important ...

"Our thoughts are with you as you serve our nation, all of you, the men and women of the armed forces, and that we are forever grateful for your duty, your honor, your integrity and your love of country."

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