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Maj. Rhonda Sullivan, second from right. (Michelle Higginbotham / Special to the American Press)

Maj. Rhonda Sullivan, second from right. (Michelle Higginbotham / Special to the American Press)

Special recognition for female veterans

Last Modified: Monday, November 12, 2012 9:34 PM

By Frank DiCesare / Special to the American Press

Women, too, are veterans and have been for generations.

During the city’s annual Veteran’s Day Celebration Service, scores of male and female veterans and their respective families joined local officials at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Lake Charles to honor all those who served their country. This year’s celebration, however, paid special recognition to women veterans both past and present.

The event’s guest speaker, Maj. Rhonda Sullivan, a recent retiree of the United States Army Nurse Corps, spoke of the many brave women who served their country with distinction from the days of the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.

Sullivan, who retired from the army last April after 24 years of service, said servicewomen over the past three decades have seen more combat action than ever before in American history. Many, she added, have paid the ultimate price. Sullivan said more servicewomen have been killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq than all of their predecessors who died in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.

“A veteran, whether a male or female, active duty, discharged , reserve, retired or deceased, is someone who, at one point in their life wrote a blank check payable to the USA, for an amount up to and including his or her life,” she said.

Sullivan added that as of Sept. 2011, the United States has been home to nearly 2 million women veterans.

Master Sgt. Marialisa M. Edwards, an Iraq War veteran of the United States Air Force and member of the Mayor’s Armed Forces Commission of Lake Charles, spoke of the challenges servicewomen face both inside and outside of their military lives. But despite these challenges, she added, brave women as young as 20 and as old as 60 have served their country in battle throughout history.

“Women served in key combat-support positions,” said Edwards, who retired from the air force in 2010. “They marched through minefields, maintained aircraft, guarded perimeters, accepted the surrender of soldiers and subsequently pulled guard duty. Women were taken prisoner and some lost their lives.”

Edwards, who served as the event’s mistress of ceremonies, added that today’s military has more women in constant combat environments than ever before in its history. Servicewomen today, she said, sustain the same types of injuries their male counterparts endure.

“Joining the military, we knew that we would be filling the boots, even the combat boots, traditionally filled by men,” Edwards added. “As one veteran put it, ‘You give up much needed rest in order to ensure the safety of our combat buddies in Iraq. You lose your fear and you set aside your innate nurturing abilities that you have as a woman just to survive and protect your comrades.’”

According to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, more than 280 servicewomen have received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in battle.

Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach spoke of the women throughout history who served in the military, even in the years before they were allowed to do so.

“Women have served in combat and they’ve died in combat,” Roach said. “We now understand that women feel just as passionately about serving our country as men do. They are just as willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice. We are one nation, not one male nation and one female nation. We are one country and our armed forces reflect that.”

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