WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The seats of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial were filled to capacity at Arlington National Cemetery Nov. 11 during a special Veterans Day ceremony honoring women veterans.
The event was highlighted with a special keynote address by retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Allison A. Hickey, and included brief remarks by women representing all five service branches.
"Our veterans, their family members, and their survivors must know of our gratitude and they must know that we will not fail them," said Hickey. "But today, especially, we celebrate our courageous and inspiring sisters in service, who broke barriers that once seemed impossible."
Hickey gave a brief timeline of women in the service, including the groundbreaking achievements made by military women throughout history.
Hickey herself is a groundbreaker. In June 1976, Hickey, along with 156 other women, entered the U.S. Air Force Academy as one of the first female cadets. Following graduation in 1980, Hickey's aviation career began in earnest, and she became the first female KC-135 pilot at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Within a few years, she became the base's first female aircraft commander.
"We need our sisters in service to claim the role they have earned through blood, sweat, conviction, heartache, tears and triumph," said Hickey. "We need our women veterans to stand and say, 'I am a veteran, I wore the uniform of the United States of America and I am so very proud.'"
Hickey dedicated the final portion of her speech to all of the women veterans attending the ceremony, inviting them to join her in standing and individually saying the words, 'I am a veteran. I wear the uniform, and I am very proud.'"
Five women representing the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard gave brief remarks and shared their thoughts on what it means to be a female veteran today.
"A veteran is a person that not only served today, but a veteran is a person that is willing to serve and answer the call that has not yet been given," said Navy Command Master Chief Evelyn P. Banks.
For Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Lisa Arnold, her military career started as a way to get out of her hometown, but quickly led to something much more.
"Eighteen years ago, I just prayed that I could wear the uniform right without my drill instructor yelling at me," said Arnold. "Today, this uniform defines me and my core values. It makes me who I am, and I can honestly say that the time I've spent wearing it has been the best part of my life."
"We are the women that are paving the way for those who follow," said Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Julie A. Gunderson. "We are the women those young girls look up to. We are the women that future service members will remember on Veterans Day."
Following the five service speakers and keynote address, representatives from the Gold Star Wives, an organization of widows and widowers whose spouses died while on active duty or as the result of a military service connected cause, placed a wreath at the memorial in memory of all who have served.
The ceremony also included a special presentation of the colors by the Corps of Cadets Color Guard from the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin College, the only all-female corps of cadets in the country.
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Diversity Directorate, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp-diversity.
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Diversity Directorate, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp-diversity/.