Last Wednesday, I was watching television to pass the time in a waiting room at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center. My partner, Chris, who served in the Army in the 80s, was having an MRI test performed.
Vino Alan, a contestant on “The X Factor,” a reality television singing competition, was singing “God Bless the U.S.A.,” a song made popular during the Gulf War by Lee Greenwood.
I wasn’t paying too much attention to the song until Alan sang,
“And I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the ones who died,
who gave that right to me.”
I realized he had changed the words from ‘the men’ to ‘the ones,’ acknowledging our women who have died in combat.
I felt that was a nice touch to recognize both the men and women of the military. Since I started working with servicemembers in 1991, I have seen the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan take the female Soldier, Airman, Sailor and Marine closer to harm’s way.
I pointed out the lyric change to a man sitting nearby; saying, “Isn’t that great that he did that?”
The man replied, “He’s just being politically correct.”
I looked at him in shock and amazement.
“You know we have women Soldiers who have died in combat, right? That’s who he’s singing about,” I said.
He seemed to be taken aback by my outburst and muttered something I couldn’t really hear except for the phrase “politically correct,” again.
My partner then came around the corner, cutting the conversation short. After we left, I told her about the conversation. She too was amazed that he would say such a thing.
It is true the majority of servicemembers who have died in combat have been men. I thank them and their Families for their sacrifice. But to say that honoring the sacrifices female servicemembers have made is nothing more than being politically correct is a disservice to those women, their comrades and their Families.
Three names come to mind as I think back on the conversation with the man in the waiting room — Spc. Krystal M. Fitts, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thalia Ramirez and Sgt. Donna R. Johnson.
Fitts, a member of Company E, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, was killed July 17 when the combat outpost she was assigned to came under enemy fire in Zharay district, Kandahar province. Fitts was part of a female engagement team, a group of female Soldiers trained to communicate and develop trust-based relationships with the Afghan women they encountered during patrols.
“They have been the literal face of America to a host of Afghan women and children. Krystal was unafraid, her presence made the difference. I cannot capture in words my sorrow at her passing or my pride in her service to the nation,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Gilhool, commander of the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, of Fitts.
Ramirez, 28, and fellow pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose Montenegro, Troop F, 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, were killed when their OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter crashed in Logar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 5.
In an article by Drew Brooks published in the Fayetteville Observer, Nov. 15, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Larry Alves, who was also on the mission, said the loss was felt across the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade as news of their deaths spread. “There are people you work with who epitomize the personality of a troop,” he said.
“They were our heart and soul. Their Families, I know they’re proud and they should be proud. It was a privilege to serve with and get to know them,” added Alves.
Johnson, 29, a member of the 514th Military Police Company, 60th Troop Command, out of Winterville, N.C., died of injuries suffered Oct. 1, when an insurgent detonated a suicide vest while she and fellow Soldiers Sgt. Jeremy F. Hardison and Sgt. Thomas J. Butler IV, were on dismounted patrol. Hardison and Butler were also killed in the blast.
Along with more than 1,000 observers in Raeford, N.C., I watched motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard pulled a trailer resembling a caisson with Johnson’s flag-draped coffin inside.
People lining the street saluted or placed their hands over their hearts as the procession traveled to the cemetery.
No one was thinking about the gender of this Soldier, just that she paid the ultimate sacrifice and was going home.