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A tribute to women warriors: New Fort Lee statue honors female soldiers

Nov. 11, 2013 - 07:46PM   |  
The new statue in honor of women warriors was unveiled Nov. 7 at Fort Lee, Va.
The new statue in honor of women warriors was unveiled Nov. 7 at Fort Lee, Va. (U.S. Army Women's Museum)
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FORT LEE, VA. — Lt. FAWMA reported for duty here Nov. 7, and she is like no other soldier.

Lt. FAWMA is a statue honoring the Army female warrior. She is the only statue on an Army post to recognize the service of Army women in this nation, or any other, according to Brig. Gen. John O’Neil, Quartermaster commandant. Her name is an acronym that honors the Friends of the Army Women’s Museum Association, which raised the needed funds.

It was standing-room only as the statue was unveiled outside the U.S. Army Women’s Museum. Women from every combat era since World War II stood with heads held high, wide smiles and welling tears.

“It is about time we got a little good press,” said former 2nd Lt. Sonja Reiss, who was part of the first integrated Women’s Army Corps class at Fort Lee in 1950. “This is well-deserved recognition.”

Former Maj. Flo Dunn agreed. The Vietnam veteran described Army women as once being “second-class citizens.” But not anymore.

“I wish I was 18 again,” she said. “I would come in and jump out of airplanes!”

Beside her stood Staff Sgt. Kirra Olson, a 12-year veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“These women have given me the opportunities I have today,” the Advanced Individual Training instructor said. “If they had not faced their challenges, I could not face mine.”

Fort Lee was the logical location to erect the Fiberglas statue, officials said. In addition to the Women’s Museum moving here from Fort McClellan, Ala., it also was an early WAC training center when that post was closed. Museum Director Francoise Bonnell described the post as “an island of integration in a sea of segregation.”

Bonnell was a leader in the mission to erect the statue. She and the Friends of the Army Women’s Museum Association felt a sculpture of a modern warrior in full combat gear would best honor the service and advancement of all Army women through all generations. Painstaking efforts were made to ensure every detail is accurate and according to standard, she said.

Retired Lt. Col. Patricia Sigle, president of Friends of the Army Women’s Museum Association, opened her remarks by quoting a British officer’s comments to Lord Cornwallis during the American Revolution: “We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women.”

“He was wise beyond his years,” she said to roaring applause.

Sigle’s comments covered the proud history of women in the ranks and closed with an address to the modern female soldier.

“You stand on our shoulders. You make us so proud,” she said. “From ‘Be All You Can Be’ to ‘Army Strong,’ hoo-ah!”

Guest speaker Sgt. 1st Class Carlandra Moss echoed the sentiment. Flanked by 16 noncommissioned officers from the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade dressed as Army trailblazers from the past 238 years, she boldly asserted that “females have always been warriors … prepared to perform and execute.”

Moss offered a salute to one of her mentors, Brig. Gen. (P) Gwen Bingham, who is the current commander of the White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“She told me to be relevant and value added,” Moss said. “And that is what Lt. FAWMA represents to me. Relevant and value added.”

And speaking of current and future female warriors, she offered these parting words: “Give us a chance. You will be amazed.”

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