The historical contributions of women were honored on Fort Leonard Wood March 29 during the annual Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Women’s History Month Observance, at Pershing Community Center.
The 2018 theme was “Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”
Col. Christopher Beck, Maneuver Support of Excellence chief of staff, opened the event by encouraging the community to celebrate women’s achievements.
“We pause this afternoon to honor the heritage of American women, show appreciation for their contributions to our great nation, and to celebrate heroic females past and present,” he said.
Guest speaker, Ruth VanDyke, a retired Chemical Corps officer, serves as a perfect example of a heroic woman who fought discrimination and rose above all doubt to achieve a successful career in the military, Beck added, as he introduced her.
“In 1973, the only way women could serve was in the Women’s Army Corps,” VanDyke said. “And it wasn’t until 1975 that women could be in the military and be married with children.”
She said, at the time, if women got married or became pregnant, they would be honorably discharged and would not be able to continue to serve in the military.
In the 1970s, VanDyke joined the military as an officer in the Chemical Corps.
VanDyke described facing discrimination at her first infantry brigade in Germany. VanDyke said she thought her male counterparts thought she would cry, shrivel up and go away.
Her first desk was an old quarter master night stand because they didn’t prepare her a proper desk.
“They barely spoke to me and I never got any help or answers until the (leadership) saw me outrun all of the males during a physical endurance test,” VanDyke said. “After (leadership) finally acknowledged me, things got a little better.”
1976 was the first year that women graduated in the four-year ROTC commissioning program and the first-year women went to West Point.
“In line with Women’s History Month, I encourage everyone to have a vision of what is possible,” VanDyke said. “If you conduct yourself professionally, you will find that not only your subordinates, peers and leaders will stop looking at you as a woman, man, white, Hispanic, or whatever societylabels you as, and will only see a military professional that they trust to do your job, do the right thing, and accomplish the mission.”
VanDyke served 22 years on active duty, followed by another 20 years contributing to the defense of the nation against weapons of mass destruction. Before retirement, she also served as a liaison officer from the Joint Staff, to U.S. Special Operations Command in Florida.
Even after retirement, VanDyke continues to be a leader in her community and an advocate in the Army. She was recently selected as a 2018 U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Special Recognition Award recipient for her work in highlighting the stories of Army women.
The observance also included vocal and musical performances by the 399th Army Band.