Nearly 40 Air and Army National Guard women gathered at the Arlington National Cemetery Oct. 21 with hundreds of active duty, retired, and reserve service members from all branches of the military to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
Honoring US Military Women
The memorial honors all women who have defended America throughout history. The gathering featured a weekend filled with remembrance, honor, service, leadership, mentorship, and inspiration.
"It just makes you reflect back on how much has changed in these 20 years, and the sacrifices that women are still making," said Army Col. Cynthia Tinkham, the Oklahoma National Guard's director of personnel. Tinkham is one of five of the event attendees with the Oklahoma Guard who were present at the memorial's dedication 20 years ago.
Men and women participate in a half-mile honor walk through Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, Oct. 21, 2017. US Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kasey Phipps.
The memorial here serves as a 4.2-acre ceremonial entrance into Arlington National Cemetery. The memorial honors the nearly 3 million women who have served or are serving in or with the US military since the American Revolution.
The group arrived here Oct. 20, touring the memorial's long arching hall of memorabilia that covers the history of US women in military service.
"I've learned a lot about women's history and the impact it has on the Air Force and every other branch," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaimie Haase, a member of the Air National Guard.
Women toss rose petals into the reflecting pool of the Women in Military Service for America memorial during a ceremony that honored the 15 fallen women of the US Armed Forces since 2012, Oct. 21, 2017, in Washington DC. US Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kasey Phipps.
WIMSA's 20th Anniversary Ceremony
Major events throughout the weekend included a celebration dinner, WIMSA's 20th Anniversary ceremony, an honor walk, and an after-dark service of remembrance. Attendees ranged from women World War II veterans to those currently serving in all branches of the US military.
The keynote speaker of the morning's ceremony, retired Air Force Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, who's also the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in Services chair, compared her experience at the dedication in 1997 to the 20th anniversary ceremony this year, emphasizing that each year there are more "firsts" to celebrate -- the first woman to serve in a particular branch, in a particular career field, and the first to die while serving.
Former Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger speaks about sustaining the force at the 2013 Air Force Association's 2013 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16, 2013. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Nesha Humes.
"There are so many firsts that the memorial represents," Wolfenbarger said. "But, the real objective is that there are no more firsts."
Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Ryan emphasized the importance of honoring the past later that evening as attendees held candles honoring the lives of the 167 women who have fallen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
"We can never forget our history and those who have perished for the sake of us all," said Ryan, who was asked to speak at the event in honor of the women killed in action.
Women from the National Guard hold candlelights during a remembrance ceremony for all the women servicemembers who have died in the line of duty, Oct. 21, 2017, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington Cemetary in Washington D.C. US Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kasey Phipps
"Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance," he added.
Among the fallen was both the youngest and only woman in the Oklahoma National Guard to die in combat, 19-year-old Army Spc. Sarina Butcher, who was killed in 2011 in Afghanistan and is honored within the memorial.
"These women represent a bridge to those that came before them," said Tinkham who spoke on behalf of fallen women. "To those of the new and current generation and to those still to join, I implore you to keep telling their stories. Be proud of them. Honor them … and tell your own stories."