It’s no secret that women have long served in the military. As far back as the Civil War, women served - not officially, but frequently alongside their husbands. During World War II, men were needed to fight so women were asked to serve in noncombatant jobs. Nearly 400,000 women served in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and civilian relief organizations in all types of jobs in order to free up males. Initially women were in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC) - in that time women were not part of the military, but rather an auxiliary.
Tom Lyons, founder and host of Minnesota Military Radio, recently interviewed Ann Quarnstrom a WWII Veteran who served in the WAAC after graduating from college. Quarnstrom recalls when the WAAC became an official part of the Army in 1943 and they became the Women’s Army Corp (WAC).
She was assigned to an aerial photography school and was one of the “50 Women in Uniform West of the Mississippi.” She recalls how closely they were watched by the general public and her male counterparts. She and the other women knew that all eyes were on them as they opened the door for women to follow who would serve in the military. During WWII Quarnstrom served on an aerial photography team that developed photos that were given to bombardiers for bombing purposes, and to help make maps of the terrain. Ann and her team developed more than 25 million aerial photographs during WWII.
Women Veterans have come a long way since WWII. Today there are facilities dedicated to the health care of Women Veterans in every state and coordinators to help them gain access to benefits. Additionally, the recent lift of the Direct Combat Exclusion Rule has removed the gender barrier which prevented women from serving in certain occupations. Moving forward, knowledge, skills and ability will be used to identify the best qualified and most capable for jobs, placement and promotions.
Despite the changes, many women do not identify themselves as Veterans. There are over 29,000 Women Veterans in Minnesota, but less than one-third have accessed their Veterans benefits. In an effort to increase outreach to Women Veterans, the Women’s Clinic at the Veterans Administration Medical Center and the Women’s Coordinator at the Veterans Administration Regional Office partnered with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to increase outreach to Women Veterans. They developed the “Bootcamp to Veteran” Women Veterans conference, which resulted in many women enrolling for benefits. During 2013, the outreach to this underserved population will continue by conducting similar regional events. Additionally, Women Veterans will have a dedicated section on the new and improved MinnesotaVeteran.org website which will launch late spring.