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Women Veterans now serving with VSOs

Seals of various VSOs.
Women Veterans serving in various VSOs.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina – (March 15, 2024) March is Women's History Month, a time to celebrate and honor the remarkable contributions of women in the U.S. military. Throughout history, women have played pivotal roles in shaping the armed forces, breaking barriers, and championing gender equity.

Part of that participation is being able to join the various Veterans Service Organizations. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are the two more prominent VSOs, but there is also Vietnam Veterans of America, Jewish War Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and several others.

The American Legion is the largest of the VSOs and was formed on March 15, 1919, in ParisFrance, by a thousand officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces. It’s charter was approved on September 16, 1919, by the U.S. Congress. It currently has 2 million Veterans in 13,000 posts around the world. Women Veterans were included in that first charter.

Jenn Latini is a member of the American Legion Post 17 in Camden, South Carolina. She was a Multichannel Systems Communications Operator with the South Carolina Army National Guard from 1989 to 1995 and was activated for Desert Storm. She was awarded the Army Commendation Medal and Joint Service Achievement Medal for her performance while deployed.

“I joined the American Legion in '98 because once I realized there was a community of Veterans, I was all in,” said Latini. “When I came back from Desert Storm, the same things just weren't important to me anymore, and I needed friends.” Latini and her husband, a Vietnam Veteran have been members of Post 17 for two years.

D Davis is also a member of Post 17 in Camden. She is a 12-year U.S. Navy Veteran and a member of Post 17 for 32 years. She is also a member of the Post 17 Auxiliary.

“I took leave, and I was home for Veterans Day. I attended American Legion Post 17's Veterans Day Program,” she said. “Legionnaire Perry McCoy, a WWII Veteran, asked me if I was a member. I said no and he signed me up. That was 32 years ago.”

“I believe my most unique assignment was in Saudi Arabia. I was deployed to teach the Saudi military how to do the preventive maintenance on some of the shipboard systems on one of their ships.”

Andie Miller also is a member of Post 17 as well as a member of the American Legion Auxiliary at Post 17. She says she is proud to be 2nd generation U.S. Navy Veteran, serving for four years, rising to the rank of Interior Communications Electrician Third Class (IC3). In this role, often considered the ship's jack-of-all-trades, she installed, maintained, and repaired a wide range of equipment, from TV entertainment systems to vital communication systems spanning the ship and shore facilities. 

“One deployment stands out: my time on the USS Shenandoah (AD-44), a Yellowstone-class destroyer tender,” she added. “Joining the ship mid-cruise via helicopter, the experiences of sunsets, sunrises, and dolphins trailing the vessel remain unforgettable.”

“I became a member of the American Legion nine years ago, driven by a desire to connect with fellow veterans and contribute to our community, other veterans, and their families,” said Miller. 

Christine Rogers is the VFW Post 11079 commander in Elgin, South Carolina. Post 11079 has 29 women Veterans. “I think it is great to have women in the VFW because they’ve earned their place,” said Rollins. “I have been the commander for 4 years.”

Rogers is a 30-year U.S. Army Veteran, serving most of her career in logistics. She has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star Medal and numerous others.

“I wanted to join the VFW so I could give back to the other Veterans and also I missed the feeling of belonging like you do in the military,” said Rollins. “The VFW is a great organization that helps many Veterans and the causes for the VFW.  We also give back to our local community.”

Cassandra Thompson is a Life Member of Post 11079. She served on active duty, as a drilling reservist and as an Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) with the U.S. Army Reserve. Her initial military occupational specialty was as a dental assistant.

“My most unique assignment was my first assignment with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii,” she said. “I grew up in the Myrtle Beach area, but the beaches in Hawaii were beautiful.  The tropical vegetation was amazing, and the weather was somewhat misunderstood.” 

The 25th ID was assigned to the Pacific Command. “I flew over the Pacific Ocean so many times for training deployments, I stopped counting at sixteen.”

When Thompson left active duty, she returned to South Carolina and joined the U.S. Army Reserve and changed her MOS to public affairs. She continued her career as a dental assistant at Columbia VA Health Care System.

“I joined the VFW because I wanted to dedicate some of my time to the community and other Veterans,” added Thompson.  “I really enjoyed working with Veterans while at Dorn and I felt I could continue to care for Veterans and their families in my community.  My wish is to leave a lasting footprint in a Veteran’s heart as often as possible. That’s the least I can do for another Veteran or another person.”

Susan Meisner is a member of Jewish War Veterans Post 299 named in memory of U.S. Army Col. Irving Heymont, who commanded one of the largest displaced persons camps for European Jews in Europe immediately after World War II. 

“But my initial post was the one my father belonged to, Lt. Robert P. Grover Post #377, in honor of the first Jewish serviceman from Jersey City, N.J., to die in combat during World War II,” said Meisner. “My mother asked me to join the post when I was a second lieutenant. Since my family no longer lived in Jersey City (and I never lived in New Jersey after high school), I paid dues and bought raffle tickets long distance for well over 30 years before a local, D.C.-area friend stood up my current chapter.”

Meisner retired after 22 years of service in the U.S. Army. She started out as an automotive maintenance ordnance officer, then logistics and public affairs. Approximately half of her service was active duty and the rest an individual mobilization augmentee reservist assigned to a variety of active-duty posts in Colorado and the Washington, D.C., area.

“Most notable of my assignments was becoming a 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment maintenance officer my last lieutenant year in Germany, when the unit still had a combat exclusion for women, and my deployment to Afghanistan as a recalled reservist from 2004-2005. Although recalled as a maintenance officer, I served as the Combined Forces Command and Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan Public Affairs Officer, which afforded me the opportunity to see the country and better appreciate the complicated mission.”

Terri Will retired from the U.S. Army after 25 years of service. She is a member of Jewish War Veterans, the VFW, the American Legion and Veterans in Media and Entertainment. Because of her full-time work schedule, she’s not as active as she’d like to be.

“The New York City branch of Veterans in Media and Entertainment are good folks, but we don't do a lot together since COVID,” said Will. “There is access to a lot of webinars from the Los Angeles chapter. NYC did a lot more together before the pandemic.”

“My very first assignment was the most unique. I was assigned to Joint Service Combat Camera detailed to the Air Force Combat Camera out of Incirlik AF Base in Turkey,” she said. “We provided photo/video documentation of the Kurdish humanitarian relief effort called Operation Provide Comfort. I was sent to all these little refugee camps throughout southern Turkey/Northern Iraq.” 

Melissa Walther served nine years as a U.S. Army Reserve public affairs print/photojournalist. Her most unique deployment was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Her unit was assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps and based out of Babylon. “I often went off on my own to get stories and photos,” she said. “I was hitchhiking across the country with the Marines.” When the Marines rotated back, her unit was extended and moved to Tikrit. The unit did all the live TV coverage and documentation of the capture of Saddam Hussein.

“I had volunteered with a local veteran service organization when I lived in Montana and really enjoyed the friendship, as well as the ability to give back to my community as a whole and to Veterans specifically,” Walther said. “I had looked at other VSOs but felt that many of them didn’t represent who I was and the views of my generation. While IAVA doesn’t have the same kind of social aspect as some other organizations, they are highly involved in veteran advocacy, and have been instrumental in getting legislation passed that directly benefits Veterans.”

While women and men can be fundamentally different, when you put both of them into military uniforms there are common threads that knit them together: leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honesty, integrity, and personal courage. Women have played a vital role in our Armed Forces since the beginning. It hasn’t been easy. We still have room to grow, people to teach, and barriers to break, but one thing is certain: Women will always have a place in our military.