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‘Connecting with my sisters’: Eastern Washington to celebrate first in-person Women’s Veterans Day

June 7, 2022 Updated Wed., June 8, 2022 at 8:54 p.m.

Navy corpsman and Korean War veteran Naomi McCrea listens to speeches during the Veterans Day Ceremony at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Nov. 11, 2019.  (Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Navy corpsman and Korean War veteran Naomi McCrea listens to speeches during the Veterans Day Ceremony at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Nov. 11, 2019. (Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Eastern Washington veterans will gather for the first time to celebrate Women Veterans Day on Sunday, more than 70 years after women were first allowed to serve as permanent members of the U.S.Armed Forces.

The celebration is about connection, not only to each other, but to the women who paved the way, said organizer Tzena Scarborough.

“My hope is that we would be able to connect with women veterans in Eastern Washington to have, No. 1, camaraderie,” Scarborough said. “And to honor those who have gone before us.”

Women Veterans Day is recognized by numerous states and is celebrated on June 12, marking the date in 1948 when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women to be regular, full-time members of the military. Before that, women were allowed to serve only during war time and not as official military members.

While the integration allowed women more rights, it wasn’t until 2015 that restrictions on women serving in combat roles were fully lifted.

Scarborough served initially in the Women’s Army Corps, then in the Army from 1976 to 1983 once the two integrated , retiring as a sergeant.

After reentering civilian life, Scarborough struggled to process her time in the Army and to connect with her fellow veterans, most of whom were men.

“It’s been a journey for me, myself, because when I got out of the Army in the ’80s I didn’t identify as a veteran,” Scarborough said.

She saw veterans as older men who served in World War II or Vietnam who told war stories over beers at their Veterans of Foreign Wars post, Scarborough said.

“That’s what the face was, and I didn’t fit that face,” Scarborough said of veterans.

Women make up 11% of the total veteran population in the United States, according to a 2021 Pew Research study. Washington is home to more than 56,000 female veterans, according to a proclamation by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“We don’t have a place to tell our stories,” Scarborough said.

Now, Scarborough hopes to give her fellow female veterans a place to connect, find support in accessing their benefits and ask for advice when processing their own experiences, by hosting the first Women Veterans Day event in Eastern Washington.

The issue of equity for female veterans got the spotlight in 2017 when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched the “We are not invisible” campaign to address the lack of representation of female veterans.

The campaign was picked up in the state of Washington by the Women Veterans Advisory Committee. Scarborough represents Eastern Washington on the committee that works to ensure female veterans have equitable access to veterans’ services and benefits.

“This fits hand-in-hand with what the Women Veterans Committee is doing to reach out to veterans of all ages and recognize them,” Scarborough said of the celebration.

The committee is hosting events both in Western and Eastern Washington this year to acknowledge Women Veterans Day for the first time since Inslee recognized the day in 2020. The day was celebrated virtually 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Spokane celebration is scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1474, 2902 E. Diamond Ave., with a program starting at 2 p.m.

Cake, cookies and other light refreshments will be served while women gather to share their stories, Scarborough said.

“I’m connecting with my sisters in service and that makes me feels so good because for so long I didn’t have any other women, my age, my era to connect to, relate to,” Scarborough said.

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