There are 29,000 women veterans living in Minnesota. If that number surprises you, believe it or not it also surprises many of those 29,000 women veterans!
Throughout 2018, there have been many events across the state of Minnesota raising the awareness of the role Minnesota women have played serving our country in the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy throughout history.
Ars Bellum Foundation, Minnesota VFW, Women Veterans Initiative, 23rd Veteran, and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs worked together to produce I am Not Invisible (IANI). The IANI exhibit honors the women who served in every era of service and every branch of America’s Armed Forces, offering extraordinary service and sacrifice to defend America at home and abroad.
The exhibit features poster-size photographs of women veterans, along with a brief biography about each of the women and their service. Local author Sandra Butalla is currently working with the women featured in the exhibit to write a book telling each woman’s story.
The debut of the exhibit was in the Capitol Rotunda in St. Paul and it has been traveling around the state from VA hospitals to major league sporting events to the first Women Veterans Unite retreat held at Giants Ridge in the spring of this year.
The Women Veterans Unite retreat brought together 34 women veterans from across northeastern Minnesota—women who served during WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and deployments and duty stations across the United States and around the world— serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and yes, even the Marine Corps.
From a weekend getaway with workshops, spa appointments, creative writing and wine tasting a bond was formed. Transitioning from military life to the civilian world can be a challenge, especially for women moving back home to rural areas without many other women veterans. From their past military experience and the camaraderie of the retreat, the Northeast Minnesota (NEMN) Women Veterans group was born.
As the retreat wrapped up we created a list of things we wanted to do. We used that list and features from other veterans’ organizations to develop our own unique group, combining socializing with community projects.
The Minnesota Women Veterans Initiative (WVI)—www.womenveteransinitiative.com—is based in the Twin Cities area with a mission to improve the lives and well-being of women who have served in the military through access to innovative programs and services. One program we have copied from the WVI is a monthly Coffee Talk where women veterans get together for coffee or dinner and talk about anything and everything that is on our minds.
Coffee Talks include stories about our military service and what is going on today in our lives, with occasional speakers about veterans’ issues and other community service opportunities. All women veterans are invited to join us the third Monday of the month at 6 p.m. During even months we meet at Mike’s Pub in Hibbing and odd months at Perkins in Mt. Iron.
The community service aspect is similar to the Mission Continues (www.missioncontinues.org), a national organization that has platoons across the country that work on community service projects. The NEMN Women Veterans have already spent an evening working at the Hibbing Community Veterans Thrift Store, volunteering at Rampage at the Ridge and are planning a spring Women Veterans Build Day with Habitat for Humanity at their Biwabik house.
During the Minnesota State Fair’s annual Military Appreciation Day there were over 50 educational booths, family-friendly entertainment, and award presentations throughout the day. This year, multiple veterans groups partnered to charter a bus from the Iron Range for veterans and families to attend the fair. Eight of the 20 veterans on the bus were women veterans! Each year the state fair selects a specific group of veterans to focus on and this year was women veterans. Over 100 women veterans from across the state proudly marched in the parade that day.
Unfortunately, women veterans often still feel overlooked when they come home. Their service and sacrifice often go unrecognized; their needs for support in transition go unmet. While our men in uniform are publicly honored and supported, our women veterans too often feel… invisible.
That is changing, slowly, as women step up to be recognized and form groups like NEMN Women Veterans, purchase women veteran license plates and participate in veteran focused events. As you look around, you will see more women veterans. And when you see them, please, thank them for their service.
For more information about the NEMN Women Veterans group, Coffee Talks or our 2019 Women Veterans Unite retreat, call 218-969-7137 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Magnusson is a Marine Corps veteran, serving from 1984-1991 as a special intelligence communications center operator. Currently Chris is a member of the United Way United For Veterans Committee, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon-Hibbing/Chisholm, the Women Veterans Initiative and a friend to local legion, DAV and VFW posts. She lives in Hibbing, MN.