Events honor Virginia National Guard’s women Soldiers and veterans

Women in the Armed Forces, both currently and through the years, are recognized and celebrated at the Military Through the Ages event March 16, 2019, at Jamestown, Virginia. Current Virginia National Guard women Soldiers were recognized, and re-enactors depicted women serving in past conflicts. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

RICHMOND, Va. — Two recent events marking Women’s History Month and Virginia Women Veterans Week 2019 honored Virginia National Guard’s female Soldiers and veterans, including one woman serving with the Norfolk-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Sgt. Taylor Cunningham, who works full-time with the 1-111th, was recognized during the Military Through The Ages event at the historic Jamestown Settlement March. 16, 2019, near Williamsburg, Virginia. The annual event featured a special salute to women’s wartime service, from their original support roles to their modern inclusion in combat units.

During the program, Sgt. Cunningham was recognized for leading the charge of women in combat roles in the Virginia National Guard.

“As of January 2016, the Secretary of Defense officially opened all military jobs to women,” said the program emcee, retired Army Lt. Col. Robin Phillips. “Our very own Sgt. Cunningham is proving equal to the challenge.”

“It’s not just men, but women play a big part in serving our country,” said Cunningham, who received a round of applause from the audience during the program. “I was able to break into a combat role. It’s been a great blessing and an honor. It was very challenging at first, but now that I’ve grown from that challenge, it’s made me who I am.”

Phillips also honored the women from eras past, who have always helped serve in whatever role they could.

“Those women who went before us on this long march through history have blazed a trail for those of us who came later,” said Phillips. “That march continues even now, stretching ahead into the future. We honor and remember all women’s contributions to the military through the ages.”

The event at Jamestown coincided with Women’s History Month, but also marked the beginning of Virginia Women Veterans Week 2019, which is being celebrated from March 17 – 23. The week was formally kicked off with a ceremony March 18, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia, where dozens of women veterans from all branches of the military, including the Virginia National Guard, were recognized and presented with a “Virginia Woman Veterans Lead the Way” pin.

Women veterans from all branches of the military including the Virginia National Guard are honored with pins recognizing their service during the Virginia Women Veterans Week kickoff event March 18, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

“Throughout the history of our Commonwealth and our country, during times of war and in peace, women have served bravely and selflessly, and I am proud to help recognize their profound contributions,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who presented each of the women veterans in attendance with the pin. “Women veterans return to the civilian world as leaders in business, government, education, medicine, and in their communities. As a fellow veteran, I have served alongside many courageous women, and as governor, I am focused on doing everything we can to support the increasing numbers of women veterans in Virginia.”

Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins also attended the event, and thanked the women being recognized for their service. He noted that even though women could only recently serve in a combat role, they’ve always been a vital part of the Armed Forces.

“Women have proudly served their country throughout all periods of United States history, whether disguised as male soldiers during the American Revolution and Civil War, working as nurses in World War I, or participating in operations as modern day combat pilots and physicians,” said Hopkins.

According to a release from Northam’s office, women are the fastest-growing group of veterans, with more than 100,000 in Virginia alone, making up the highest percentage of women veterans of any state in the country.

“We are working harder than ever to reach out to women veterans,” said Beverly VanTull, manager of the Virginia Women Veterans Program at the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. “We want them to know about the programs they have earned with their service.”

Veterans Services will host the Virginia Women Veterans Summit May 16-17, 2019, in Hampton, Virginia. It will include nationally-recognized speakers and discussions on issues facing women veterans.

Any woman veteran not able to attend the ceremony can still get their special pin at any local DVS office, locations of which can be found here: https://www.dvs.virginia.gov/dvs/locations.