The following is a guest post by Lisa Gomez, a Library of Congress Junior Fellow working with the Veterans History Project (VHP) this summer.
This summer, while serving as an LC Junior Fellow, I’ve had the honor and opportunity to explore the fascinating collections of photographs and oral histories archived by the Veterans History Project. While preparing for Display Day (a showcase held at the conclusion of the summer for Junior Fellows to present their work), my fellow Junior Fellow, Samantha Meier, and I reviewed a selection of VHP’s collections and set out to discover and understand the evolution of women’s positions in the United States military. What captivated me was that women are now serving in occupational capacities that are as diverse and interesting as the veterans’ own backgrounds, skillsets and motivations.
Two interesting collections that emerged were the collection of Major Maginia Sijise Morales and the collection of Command Sergeant Major Kimberly Davis, as each veteran served in humanitarian missions around the world, and in particular, in peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s. I had not previously been aware of these special operations and had to learn more!
Peacekeeping is a neutral military involvement implemented to help countries divided by conflict transition to enduring peace. Referred to as Peacekeeping Operations, or PKOs, the concept was developed by the United Nations after World War II to maintain order throughout Europe.
After the end of the Cold War, the United States Army played an active role in international peacekeeping missions in Africa, Haiti, Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina, countries struggling with regional conflicts, natural disasters, public health crisis and humanitarian emergencies. The involvement of female military peacemakers was particularly significant from 1992-1999 as women’s roles in the military had considerably advanced during the Persian Gulf War, and women soldiers served with distinction in war and flew aircrafts in combat missions. Women were expressly trained to cope with food riots, terrorist attacks, clan conflicts, and peacekeeping. They thrived in their roles during these special operations, ultimately adding value and success to the Army’s mission.
The collection of Major Maginia Sijise Morales offers a striking example of the role played by a female soldier during a PKO. Morales was born, raised, and educated in the Philippines, and in 1977 was presented with the opportunity to work as a Registered Nurse in America. The only caveat was she had to leave her entire family in the Philippines. She excitedly took the chance and completed her graduate studies in the United States before being recruited to join the Army Reserves in 1985. Morales remained close to her family throughout her time in the Army and deemed the expensive phone calls home (she recalls in her VHP oral history spending $1000 per month to call the Philippines from her postings abroad) well worth it!
Morales’ first experience with peacekeeping came when she served as the Chief of Critical Care with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in Botswana. In 1995, Morales deployed to Tuzla, Bosnia with Army soldiers and 33 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and nutritionists, to help sustain peace in Bosnia following the brutal three-year civil war in the region.
In her VHP oral history, Morales stated that while she had extensive advanced training and education in trauma and burn surgery, treating mine injury victims was a new and devastating experience. So great was the risk of land mines that while stationed at Camp Bedrock in Tuzla, she and her fellow soldiers did not leave the camp except for when medics were assigned to mine fighting expedition crews.
I took a trip to the city of Sarajevo, [Bosnia] and approaching the city there were miles and miles of fresh graveyards. The trip [to Sarajevo] made me realize the magnitude of the problem, over 100,000 deaths. When I was working with the MASH, we were given the opportunity to go out with crews of people from Doctors Without Borders. We were able to go out to different units; they had people from Turkey, the Turkish Brigade, Germany, all kinds of medical units like mine and the Doctors Without Borders would go out to the mass gravesites where they were operating and document how these people were killed. It was amazing to do this as a service to humanity.”
Command Sergeant Major Kimberly Davis always knew she would join the military growing up as she was influenced by the stories her aunt and uncles would regale her with while on leave from their military posts. Davis recounted in her VHP interview that from a very young age she understood how fortunate she was to be an American and the number one reason she joined the Army was to serve her country.
Davis was also deployed to Tuzla and Sarajevo, Bosnia in the mid-1990s. In her VHP interview, she explained her perspective on these Peacekeeping Operations:
For me, it’s freedom or die…the biggest most precious thing to me is the freedom to control your own destiny. It may sound cheesy, but it really is. That’s what motivates me when I go to these different places…That’s why we have to go in there and free people and say you can go for it, what you do with your freedom is your business, but at least you had a chance because when people are born into that type of oppression, it’s just not right. I don’t sleep good at night [thinking about the oppression], nobody should.”
Female soldiers such as Morales and Davis serve as role models in local, national and international communities. Serving in countless ways in every conflict, from supporting roles to peacekeeping to combat, female veterans are an invaluable element of the modern US military.
If you’re in the DC area, please join us for the Junior Fellows Display Day, which will be held on July 25, 2018 from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Mahogany Row (LJ110-119). Two additional female veterans who were also involved in Peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Michelle Seretta Jones and Stacy Cox Vasquez, will also be highlighted in the display.