BOISE • Idaho has about 13,000 women veterans, but many former servicewomen have neglected to apply for the benefits they earned.
Rectifying that oversight — and extending gratitude to women who have and are serving — is among the aims of the Women’s Veterans Conference in Boise on Saturday, Aug. 10.
“I identify myself as a veteran and Air Force person, but many women do not because they were not treated like veterans,” said Tamara Mackenthun, a 21½-year veteran and the state’s women veterans coordinator. “One of the goals is to help with that. It’s a validation of their service and a way to send a big thank you.”
“I think there are a lot of people who think of veterans as men. The women are forgotten,” said Linda Brugger of Twin Falls, who served a year as a Navy electronics technician and was in the Air Force Reserves from 1975 until 1996.
Brugger said that when she enlisted in the Navy in 1960, she wasn’t allowed on the ship.
“Women weren’t allowed to be in harm’s way. We were a separate part of the military,” she said. “This new crop of women veterans has been through so much more than I was.”
About 200,000 women are in uniform today, many of them in combat, representing about 14 percent of the active-duty force of 1.38 million service members.
One of the most highly decorated military women ever — U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught — will give the keynote address at Saturday’s conference to the 150 or so women who had registered as of Thursday.
Vaught enlisted in the Air Force in 1957, long before many of today’s female soldiers were even born.
In 1966, she became the first woman to deploy with a Strategic Air Command bombardment wing on an operational deployment. Fourteen years later, she was promoted to brigadier general, the first woman to gain that rank in the comptroller career field. She became commander in 1982 of the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command in North Chicago, Ill. She also was chairwoman of the NATO Women in the Allied Forces Committee and was the senior woman military representative to the Secretary of Defense’s prestigious Advisory Committee on Women in the Service, according to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Vaught retired in 1985 as one of only seven women generals in the U.S.
Since then, she has helped raise more than $20 million to create the first major memorial to honor the nearly 2 million women who have served in the U.S. armed forces, a memorial that now stands directly outside of Arlington National Cemetery.
Vaught still serves as board president of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation Inc.
The memorial honors today’s servicewomen as well as those who served during World War IIin the Women’s Army Corps (called WACs), the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVEs), and the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). All provided critical support for the war effort.
At the Idaho conference, in addition to hearing remarks by Vaught, attendees will have time to network with other women veterans and attend workshops on such subjects as veterans’ benefits and women’s health and wellness.
A variety of vendors will provide information on continuing education, finance, women and children’s services, medical care and more. The veterans also will be served lunch and treated to a raffle and door prizes.
Brugger said it took her a long time to feel comfortable calling herself a veteran, but now she does so proudly and is looking forward to attending the Women’s Veterans Conference.
“I wish more female veterans got involved so we had a bigger voice,” she said.