Three women shared their stories of service Tuesday evening at the McPherson American Legion Post 24. The presentation was a part of a monthly event held at the Legion known as Veteran’s Story Night, held the third Tuesday of every month. A meal is provided, and each veteran receives two free drinks as well. Sponsors for this month included Terry Hedlund of Hedlund Electric Inc., Susan and Mike McVicker of Sew ‘n’ Sew, Troy Glidden of Glidden-Ediger Funeral Home and Ken and Angela Patton.
For Sarah Yardley, joining the military was just the right thing to do. With her father, siblings and a number of other family members having served, it made sense.
“Having quite a few family members in the military piqued my interest,” she said.
She went to see a recruiter with one other person. The other person did not sign up, but Yardley did. She was so excited to tell her family that she had joined the Army, that she managed to get a speeding ticket on her way home.
Yardley would gain the Military Occupation specialty of 74C or telecommunications operator. This job was reclassified in 2004, becoming what it is today—25B or information systems operator/analyst. Yardley would have been one of only 50 soldiers effected by the redesignation.
This job took her to Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Home of “America’s Arctic Warriors.” Built in 1939, the fort was initially designed to test equipment and weapons under extreme cold weather conditions. If Yardley didn’t take a lunch break it was unlikely, she would see the sun at all that day. The frigid conditions, led to Yardley getting asthma, which resulted in her discharge later, but she was still able to appreciate the area.
“It’s beautiful country up there and after I got out, I stayed up there as a civilian for a little while,” she said.
Not a well-populated area or base, the fort was run by only 50 people in its first few years. Now it is home to 7,700 soldiers and their families. While perhaps not everyone’s choice of duty station Yardley didn’t mind it and even though her career was relatively short due to her asthma, she would do it again in heartbeat.
“Everybody took care of each other,” she said. “It was like a family and it is something you just don’t see in the civilian world.”
Cathy Gawlik made what was for her, an easy choice in joining the Navy. During her childhood she was regaled by stories from her father, a deck hand for a Norwegian Shipping Line and uncle who was a U.S. Sailor. Stories of far-off lands and interesting people. So, the girl from the Bronx, joined the Navy “to see the world.” So, she did. From the “concrete jungle” to Korea, Gawlik eventually had her own story to tell of far-off lands and interesting people.
In order to join she had to go before a board who would take her civilian skills and match them with administrative duties of the Navy. She joined the Naval Reserve Special Rating Program, enlisted and was sworn in April 1965. A year later in 1966 she was discharged for pregnancy.
“They did not make pregnancy uniforms at that time,” she said with a laugh.
Another 10 years went by and in 1977, she rejoined the service. This time, uniforms weren’t an issue.
“I was issued two seabags of clothing. One with dress whites, dress blues and utility uniforms and the other was all camis,” she said.
In an interesting turn of events, Gawlik served at the same time as her husband. More than 1,200 couples serve in the military together at any given time. While they didn’t serve in the same unit, they were able to stay near one another most of the time. Her husband did well with it in any case.
“He didn’t really have a choice,” Gawlik said.
During her career, she 37,000 military women were in the Persian Gulf, making up approximately 6.8% of U.S. forces, about 3,700 of those were in the Navy. She served with distinction and in 1993 chose not to re-enlist. For her time in service, Gawlik was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal. She said without hesitation that if she was asked to do it over again, she would.
“I got to do lots of things I wouldn’t have,” Gawlik said.
In 1973, Jane Ledell was the second female cadet to receive an Army ROTC commission from Kansas State University. The Wildcats boast one of the oldest ROTC programs in the country. She was one of 20 women who signed up for the program, however only three completed it in that first two years.
While her father served towards the tail end of World War II, Ledell is not from a traditional military family and chose to join more out of practicality than anything else.
One of the reasons why I decided to go into the service is the recession, Ledell said. I didn’t think I could get a job when I graduated, and I didn’t have any other prospects at the time.
While very few can say their journey in the military was an easy one, being one of the first in a number of roles gave Ledell plenty of obstacles to overcome. She lost 70 pounds just to be accepted into service. Though she received a $100 per month stipend for her trouble. In the end she was placed in the Women’s Army Corps as at the time, females were not allowed in any of the four combat services.
Because of how new the concept was for women to enlist; her career was one of distinction under a microscope.
People would observe us a lot because they wanted to see how women interacted in the ROTC program, she said.
Like Galik, Ledell found herself traveling and completed stints anywhere from the Pentagon to Korea. While paving the way for females in the military, she also provided her spouse with a few firsts as well.
“My husband had the honor of being the first male member of the officer’s wives club,” she said with a laugh.
Thanks to women like Ledell, Galik and Yardley, 10% of the United States military is comprised of women. According to the Defense Department, women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and almost 9 percent of the Marine Corps. These women each had unique stories to tell of different times, duty stations and positions within the armed forces. When asked if they would do it all over again, they each answered without hesitation that they would.
“Nowhere else could I have been entrusted with that kind of responsibility that I had when I was in the military,” Ledell said. “They trusted me to have all this responsibility.”