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Celebrating Women's History Month: 'Our history is our strength'

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As we celebrate Women's History Month, I would like to profile a few outstanding women who have served in the military who have exhibited and continue to exhibit courage, patriotism, community, dedication, commitment and perseverance. It is not the mere fact they are "women," but that they are valued, vital, and appreciated for the loyal role they have played in past history and continue to play in the ever increasing responsibility women are tasked in today's Department of Defense agencies.

Profiling Extraordinary DoD Women of Excellence:

Jeanne M. Holm - Air Force

Her own words: "There was a distinct caste system that has since about disappeared."

In 1942, a young Oregonian determined to serve in World War II was among the first women to enlist in the military. Starting out as an Army truck driver, Jeanne Holm soon became an officer and leader. At war's end her patriotic impulse turned into an Air Force career of more than 30 years. Holm wrote three books on women in the military, stories in which she played a major role thanks to her advocacy while on active duty and during her retirement.

Violet Hill Askins Gordon - Army

Her own words: "This was such a bold step..."

Before Violet Hill Gordon enlisted during World War II, she was supervising a stenographic pool in the State Civil Service in Chicago. Her best friend, Mildred Osby, urged her to join the Women's Auxiliary Army -- a bold move, especially given the segregation of the time. Gordon not only joined up, but also became a commanding officer in the 6888th Central Postal Directory.

In summarizing her life experiences, Gordon makes a moving statement about how the Army pushed her in a positive direction. She feels that her experiences in the WAC changed her from a shy, introspective person into a leader. She speaks glowingly of the present day numbers of women of all colors, races, and ranks in active military service.

Carolyn Hisako Tanaka - Army Nurse Corp

Her own words: "I could not believe I was coming home to the same reception I received twenty-three years before, following World War II. This time I was not the enemy, but I was there saving lives, perhaps their loved ones."

Nicknamed Road Runner for her unflagging energy and enthusiasm, Carolyn Hisako Tanaka served in Vietnam in spite of a scarring childhood memory. At the age of six, she saw her family evicted from their California home in the wake of Pearl Harbor and relocated to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona. When the family returned to California after the war, they found their home burned to the ground. In 1966, as an emergency room nurse, she decided to enlist in the Army, telling skeptical friends, "I have a skill that is needed in Vietnam, and I'm going there to do my duty for my country." Ironically, she returned from that war to a "welcome" that brought back bitter memories.

Ann Caracristi - Civilian

Her own words: "It made a big difference in winning the war in the Pacific-and we were aware of that."

In her senior year of college, Ann Caracristi was recruited for wartime intelligence work in Washington. She joined the Signals Intelligence Service, which spent much of the war breaking down codes the Japanese military was using. Caracristi enjoyed her time in wartime Washington, but she didn't understand how much she enjoyed the work until after the war. When she returned to the "real world" and found work there unchallenging, she returned to government intelligence and made it her career for the next forty years.

Darlene M. Iskra - Navy

Her own words: "Don't treat me any differently; I am the commanding officer and that's it."

When Darlene Iskra enlisted in the Navy in 1979, her ambitions were modest; she was 27, coming off a divorce, her life in need of a jump start. She unwittingly caught a wave of change in that service, becoming one of the first women to graduate from dive school. Her talent for supervision and her tenacity won her a loyal following in the higher echelons of the Navy, and in December 1990, she became the first woman to take command of a U.S. Navy ship, aptly named the Opportune. Though her ship was on stand-by duty during the Persian Gulf War, Iskra's name was already secure in Naval history.

Clara C. Johnson - Air Force

Her own words: "I was always impressed with my female colleagues in that I was the only person of color and they were readily accepting of me."

In 1950, Clara "Chris" Johnson was a theatrical designer with limited prospects when she decided that the Air Force would provide her with a steady income. Her initial impression of her female colleagues confirmed that she was going to be judged solely on her abilities and not on the color of her skin. She survived a rigorous stint at Officers Candidate School and a year in Vietnam, and got to retire at an age young enough to have a second career in academia.

Closing Comments from the Director, Equal Opportunity:
I hope you will take the opportunity to engage in Women History Month events, recognitions and take the opportunity to value another aspect of our diverse culture. This country thrives because it is a diverse nation and in recognizing and appreciating diversity, we will continue to make this country a better place to live for all. Right now, we are focusing on women, their place in society and the world. "Our history is our strength."