Though not under formal military command until the early 1900s, women have played an active role in the armed forces since the American Revolution, serving alongside their male counterparts in fighting for country and freedom.
Today, an estimated 1.5 million women – 214,000 of them active – are serving their country among the five branches of the U.S. military, according to the Department of Defense, accounting for 14.5 percent of the nation’s military service personnel.
The number of female veterans in the U.S. is estimated at 1.2 million.
In Inyo County, two such veterans will be joining the Bishop VFW Post tomorrow in commemorating Nov. 11 as Veterans Day.
These women, Diane Lee and Gaylee “Scruffy” Huffman, are the Post’s only active female members – but are finding they fit right in the community service organization.
Lee served in the U.S. Army from 1988-1993, serving in Desert Storm in 1991.
A Bishop resident since age 9, Lee said she graduated high school and began her first semester of community collage when she decided to join the Army.
As a logistics specialist, Lee drove five-ton supply trucks in the Desert Storm conflict.
“It was a good experience,” Lee said. “My time in the military made me much more responsible and helped me to appreciate the U.S. and our freedom.”
Huffman served in the U.S. Navy from 1978 through 1988, serving in the Persian Gulf from 1986 through 1987.
During her time in the service, she was a boat operator and crane operator who served on torpedo retrievers, oilers, tug boats and just about “anything that could float,” she said.
“I grew up in Montana and I didn’t want to be a lumber jack’s wife,” Huffman said. “I wanted to see the world.”
That is also an experience Lee said she will always cherish from her time in the Army. “I got to see part of the world that I’ll probably never get to see again,” she said, adding that during her time in the service she spent two-and-a-half years in Germany.
Huffman said the Navy taught her a great deal about her personal strength.
“Being a little person (of small stature), there were things I didn’t even know I could do, but I did,” Huffman said. “It was the best thing I ever did.”
Lee said she was also pushed beyond what she thought possible during her time in the Army.
Both women said friends and family members made bets with them that they would not make it through basic training.
Both women succeeded in basic, and went on to serve honorably.
For those who are considering a career or even just a stint in the armed services, Huffman said, “just do it. It’s great for the community, it’s great for the country. It’s great for all of us and it is so rewarding.”
Lee echoed that sentiment, telling those who are looking into service that it is possible. “Don’t think you can’t do it,” she said.
At home in Bishop, both Lee and Hoffman have found camaraderie and a sense of community spirit through VFW Post No. 8988.
“I’m a fairly new member, but we do a lot of volunteering in the community. The club is not what a lot of people think it is, it’s not just a bunch of Vietnam vets sitting around. We do a lot in the community,” Lee said.
“I love everything about the Post, everybody’s always happy, and we’re a good team,” Huffman said. “I’m just proud to be a part of it. We’re not just a bunch of old guys, we go above and beyond for our community.”
Both Huffman and Lee said they would encourage any eligible veteran to look into joining their local VFW post.
With more than 200 members, Post No. 8988, is celebrating this Veterans Day with a ceremony and barbecue Friday. The festivities kick off at 11 a.m. at the Pioneer Cemetery on West Line Street in Bishop before moving to the Post for fellowship, hamburgers and hot dogs from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
“We want everyone to come out,” said Earl McWilliams, senior vice president of Post No. 8988.