By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2013 – First Lady Michelle Obama today honored 14 women veterans who, after serving honorably, continued as leaders at the local, state, regional or national level.
During a “Champions of Change” event at the White House, Obama also pledged to continue addressing ongoing employment challenges through her Joining Forces initiative, which — among other things — connects servicemen and women, veterans and military spouses with the resources they need to find jobs at home. The first lady co-sponsors Joining Forces with Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
“You all are part of a long line of women who have broken barriers, … defied expectations and served this country with unparalleled courage and determination,” the first lady said to the veterans. “You’ve been on the front lines, often in the line of fire, and generation after generation, women like you have proven you not only serve alongside men, you lead them as well.”
Obama lauded the women for performing their jobs with “grace, … poise and dignity” wherever they’d served, and noted their demonstrated dedication and selfless service continues beyond their military obligations.
“You don’t stop serving [the country] after you hang up your uniforms,” she said. “You are the leaders in our businesses and schools and our communities. You’re mothers raising your kids with that same sense of honor that defines your own lives.”
Obama commended the women whose accomplishments include helping veterans and their families start businesses, promoting gender equality in the military, and working to end homelessness, domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Being part of something bigger than ourselves … is the common thread that connects our 14 honorees,” Obama said. “We’re determined to ensure that all of our veterans and military families get the benefits, support and respect that they have earned.”
This mission, Obama said, is particularly urgent as hundreds of thousands of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking employment, or will be soon. “We have so many talented, highly skilled veterans who have so much to offer this country,” she said. “We need that service operating here at home.”
The first lady said she recently attended the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers representing more than 80 of the nation’s leading businesses.
“I challenged some of the biggest [companies] in this nation to hire and train even more of veterans and military spouses in the coming years,” she added, to ensure that veterans have access to the jobs they need and deserve when they return home.
Efforts under way include President Barack Obama offering tax credits to businesses hiring veterans or wounded warriors, as well as helping troops translate their skills and match them with civilian careers that suit their experiences. American Job Center, an online jobs bank, connects U.S. companies to veterans in local communities, the first lady said, and efforts continue to streamline the credentialing processes for military people to earn professional certifications.
“This work couldn’t be more urgent,” she said of the leagues of women hanging up their uniforms. “We know that right now is the time when you need us most.”
The first lady acknowledged that many women veterans face a critical transition.
“We are not going to stop working until all of our veterans and all of their families feel the support of the entire country,” she said. “We are proud of you, we are grateful and we’re going to keep working for our nation, because we still need you.”
The honorees are:
— Navy veteran Tia Christopher of Davis, Calif., chief of staff for the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. She speaks nationally on women veterans’ issues, including testifying before the state and federal legislature about military sexual trauma. She wrote “You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are: A Straightforward Transition Manual.”
— Stacy L. Pearsall of Charleston, S.C., a combat-disabled Air Force veteran who earned the Bronze Star Medal and commendation with valor for heroic actions under fire. She now plays a key role in developing new policy regarding veteran health care at the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She singlehandedly funds and photographs veterans for the Veterans Portrait Project Foundation. Though disabled from combat injuries, Pearsall is a multi-medaled athlete, including gold, from the U.S. Paralympic Committee-sponsored Warrior Games in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
— Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught of Arlington, Va., who was instrumental in building the $22.5 million Women’s Memorial at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery. She is now the President of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, the nation’s only major memorial to pay tribute to America’s 2.5 million women who have served.
— Kayla Williams of Ashburn Va., who wrote “Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army,” a memoir about her experiences negotiating the changing demands on women in today’s military during a deployment to Iraq. Williams graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from Bowling Green State University, and earned a master of arts degree in international Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from American University.
— Natasha Young of Boston, a fellowship recruitment associate at The Mission Continues, serving the northeastern and southeastern United States. A 12-year veteran of the Marine Corps, Young served two tours in Iraq and a recruiting tour stateside before a medical discharge in October 2011. She has dedicated herself to helping other veterans overcome the struggles of their transitions and emerge empowered not only to lead new lives of service, but also to set the example for others to follow.
— Ginger Miller of Accokeek, Md., founder and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive, which is dedicated to meeting women veterans at their points of need and actively promotes the importance of tailoring services to women veterans’ needs. She has organized women veteran programs that feature information, mentoring and peer support. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed her to the Maryland Commission for Women and the Maryland Caregivers Support Coordinating Council.
— Michelle Racicot, of Albuquerque, N.M., a family nurse practitioner at an urgent care center. A former Army Nurse Corps officer who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Racicot is the vice executive director for American Women Veterans, a national organization that advocates on behalf of servicewomen, veterans, and their families. Racicot educates legislators and local community members about homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder, women in combat and health disparities.
— Retired Navy Capt. Glenna Tinney of Arlington, Va., who for more than three decades has facilitated change in both the civilian and military systems to eliminate violence against women. She is the military advocacy program coordinator for the Battered Women’s Justice Project, a national technical assistance provider for the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women. As one of the original 12 Navy social workers recruited for active duty in 1980, Tinney served for 24 years working with military families and managing worldwide family violence and sexual assault programs. Today, she manages a special project funded by OVW to develop a model coordinated community response to co-occurring incidents of combat-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and intimate partner violence.
— Dawn Halfaker of Arlington, Va., who was seriously injured during a combat patrol near Baghdad in 2004. She formed Halfaker and Associates in 2006 to empower veterans through meaningful careers. Today, her team has more than 130 employees.
— Priscilla Mondt of Fayetteville, Ark., chief of chaplain service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center there. An Army veteran who served in operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, Mondt received the Bronze Star and Legion of Merit. Her approach to spiritual care, from personal care to technology, set a high standard for addressing the needs of veteran patients and families.
— Marsha Tansey Four of Philadelphia, an in-country Vietnam veteran who sits on the national board of directors for Vietnam Veterans of America, and has devoted the past 24 years to working with and advocating for veterans by contributing, writing, and delivering testimony related to veterans issues on local, state and federal levels. In 1993, Tansey initiated the Philadelphia Stand Down for Homeless Veterans and recently retired as the executive director of the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service and Education Center, a nonprofit agency providing free, comprehensive services to regional veterans.
— Sharie Derrickson, of Nashville, Tenn., who served at the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper and was a combat photojournalist with Navy Combat Camera. She is now the vice president of New Wind Energy Solutions in Nashville, where she and her team are committed to global sustainability, vetting the newest technologies to ensure they are not only reliable, but practical, and affordable. She has helped her company grow through projects around the world, including international relief efforts.
— Marylyn Harris of Houston, who in 2010 founded the nation’s first and only Women Veterans Business Center there to educate and empower women veterans and their families in starting their own businesses. A former Army nurse and disabled war veteran, Harris travels throughout the country advocating for active service members, veterans and military families.
— Becky Kanis of Los Angeles, who served for nine years as an Army officer after her 1991 graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Unwilling to continue obscuring her sexual orientation, she resigned her commission in 2000 and soon began working to end homelessness in New York City. After helping to reduce street homelessness in Times Square by more than two thirds, Kanis became the director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a grassroots nationwide effort to find and house 100,000 of the most chronic and vulnerable homeless people by July 2014. Under her leadership, more than 37,000 homeless Americans, including 13,000 veterans, have found permanent homes. In 2012, she co-founded the Social Change Agency with her wife, Christine, to support nonprofit leaders in creating thriving teams that change the world.