Women’s History Month: Women in the military

Womens History
Veterans Voices

(WWLP) – Women have a growing presence in our U.S. military.

“Women are a lot stronger than they give us credit for, you know?”

Back in the 1950’s, Elizabeth Patty needed her parents’ signatures to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

“I filled out the paperwork and my mother and my dad were supposed to sign it, so I stuck it in the drawer by my bed, and I’d take it out and look at it, but nothing was happening,” Elizabeth said. “So one night, I opened the door, I was gonna just tear it up.”

But she didn’t tear it up.

Two years later, in 1954, Elizabeth was on her way to boot camp, eventually serving as a teletype operator at Camp Lejeune.

“Some of the older Marines didn’t accept it too well,” Elizabeth said. “They weren’t very happy about women ‘screwing up their marine corps’ as they put it.”

Elizabeth proved herself by working long hours in the communications center.

“I fooled around at night with machines when it wasn’t that busy and I learned how to do it myself,” Elizabeth said. “Eventually when they moved all of us in my group to the night shift, they made me chief on that shift, which meant I was the head teletype operator.”

That same hard work ethic would lead future generations of women service members to where they are today.

“I thought it’d be really cool to be a Navy pilot, so I went to the Navy recruiter, and he told me that girls don’t fly…”

That recruiter was wrong. Women flew then, and even more of them are flying now.

That’s not all. In 2016, the Department of Defense made history when it opened all positions to women to qualify –including combat.

“I think it’s amazing that women can serve side by side with men, its an awesome feeling to do the same work they do,” Tech Sgt. Stephanie Palala said. “It’s nice to be apart of something that’s a lot bigger than you.”

Sgt. Palala joined the Air Force right out of high school. In just 7 and a half years, she’s been deployed to Afghanistan and southwest Asia.

“It was hard because I was young, I spent a couple of Christmases and birthdays away, so I think you just miss everyone a lot, but its for a bigger purpose, so it makes it worth it,” Palala said.

It’s Sgt. Palala’s job to inspect cargo. That cargo is then loaded onto a C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft, piloted by Lt. Col. Emily Koziol, whose job it is to make sure it gets there safely.

Lt. Col. Koziol’s dreams of being a pilot in the U.S. military crashed when a Navy recruiter told her ‘girls don’t fly.’

“It definitely made me more determined,” she said. “I was irritated, I was angry, I thought, ‘How dare you?’ My mother told me my whole life, you could do anything you want, you just have to work harder than everyone else to get what you want. To be here now is pretty amazing, it’s a great feeling.”

Koziol is now the first-ever female C-5 instructor pilot at Westover Air Reserve Base. She teaches pilots of all ranks, and helps them maintain their flying hours in the U.S. military’s largest aircraft.

“When I first started flying this I remember coming up and thinking, I’d never know what all these switches do,” Koziol explained.

Women in the military are also faced with putting their mom duties on hold when their country calls.

“It’s hard,” Koziol said. “Leaving your kids all the time, and trying to explain to them, especially when they’re little, trying to explain the greater good, that I’m doing something that’s bigger than myself, that’s more important.”

Back on the ground, veterans like Captain Kristi Williams have the important job of taking care of our troops. Previously an active duty medical-surgical nurse, Williams now serves as a psychiatric nurse in the United States Army Reserve.

“It’s such an honor, you get all different service members from every branch, every generation of military, and the stories you get to hear when their your patient and then there is that level of connection, they know that you’re serving, so there’s just already that bond,” Williams said.

Having had all her trauma certificates from previous experience, Capt. Williams served in the emergency department during her recent deployment to Afghanistan.

“It was very rewarding. Long nights and really bad things that happened as well, but the team that was out there was really incredible, and the friendships that I made are unlike any friendships I could ever describe to anyone who hasn’t been there.”

It’s those bonds and sacrifices that are celebrated on this Veterans Day… and the commitment.

“You raised your right hand, and you promised to protect and defend this country,” Williams said. “That is something that a very small population can say. And there’s nothing like that feeling knowing you’ve served your country.”

That’s the feeling that these veterans hope all young girls who want to join the military chase after: 

“At 18 I wasn’t sure, and very insecure about life, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” –Tech Sgt. Stephanie Palala

“It teaches you so much about responsibility and it really helps you become a more well-rounded person,” — Capt. Kristi Williams

“It’s made me a better everything in my life. A better mother, a better wife, and definitely a better person,” — Lt. Col. Emily Koziol

“You learn confidence in yourself. You do things you never thought you could do,”– Elizabeth Patty 

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