Commemorating Women’s Military Achievements

Throughout my 20 years of service in the Navy, I have had the privilege of working alongside many brave, resilient and inspiring women. These servicewomen — more than 345,000 of them — who have been deployed since 9/11 have been central to the past and continued success of US operations, fighting tirelessly to protect all Americans.

The achievements of women in the military are vast, go back centuries and have been demonstrated in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), which began in the aftermath of 9/11 to fight those who sought to export terror. Yet their contributions and sacrifices continue to be largely ignored in the telling of American history.

The world has changed dramatically since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom over 20 years ago, and so has our military. While the number of male veterans is should go down in the coming decades, the population of female veterans will continue to grow, swelling the ranks by nearly 2 millions female veterans in the United States today. Although women have served in the military in many roles for more than 200 yearsthere have been many “firsts” for them in recent years.

Opening of all combat positions to women, the first Silver Star awarded to a female soldier since World War IIthe first women to graduate from Army Ranger School, and the first female four-star general, are among these “firsts”. These accolades are groundbreaking, but the fact that they have only occurred in the past 25 years reflects the gaps in gender opportunities and recognition in the military. They serve not only as a reminder of the great strength of women in the military, but also of the many obstacles they had to overcome.

We must ensure that women are not excluded when it comes to documenting history or expressing gratitude to those who have served. And with Congress having recently authorized the building of the GWOT Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, we as Americans have a unique opportunity to do so.

This clearance is just the first step in a 24-step process before the monument can be built, which means now is the time to speak out to ensure women veterans are well represented. The GWOT Memorial is intended to be an inclusive, respectful, and apolitical place of honor for veterans and their families who served in GWOT, providing a historic opportunity to recognize and honor the contributions of women who fought to our nation. We urge Congress to ensure that the GWOT Memorial safeguards the legacy of female servicemen among American heroes throughout history.

The representation of women in military memorials is essential. Past and current servicewomen have provided the same strength of character and commitment to country as their male counterparts. Yet they haven’t received the same public awareness of their service – a known issue that needs to be addressed.

Speaking as both a veteran and CEO of a veterans service organization – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) — a majority from the Veteran community have demonstrated their desire to prioritize issues affecting female Veterans. VSOs and non-profit organizations, such as IAVA, have been working to establish equitable awareness and access to VA benefits for female service members and veterans. The construction of a memorial on the National Mall represents an important opportunity for change.

By building the GWOT Memorial, the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation should be inspired by the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month, “to bring healing, to promote hope”. It should serve as a reminder of why women should be represented in military tributes for the actions they have taken during their service to heal, protect, and provide for our country and the world.

Jeremy Butler is the Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

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