By Maj. Tambra West
Utah Army National Guard
Today, the Utah National Guard celebrates International Women’s Day, and celebrates Women’s History Month through the month of March. Women’s History Month honors and celebrates the struggles and achievements of American women throughout the history of the United States. Women have played a vital role in our military since the Revolutionary War. Today, women serve in every career field in the military and are critical members of the Utah National Guard.
Below we highlight the stories of women service members who serve the Utah National Guard with distinction, and are role models exemplifying our highest values.
Lt. Col. Kimberly Lawson
Date Joined: Oct. 29, 1986
Years of Service: 35
Why Did You Join? When I was a little girl, my grandmother always told me that my father was "college material" but he never went to college. She said it in a way that made going to college seem so important. My parents never saved a college fund but I aspired to go. I had an uncle and three cousins join the Air National Guard, and one cousin explained to me how many benefits he was getting to join. It was too good to be true. After looking into it, I joined the Air National Guard for the college benefits. However, as I was nearing the end of my enlistment, I realized I did not want to stay in the Air Force and looked to the Army to jump out of aircraft. I transferred to the Army National Guard to go airborne. You could say I transferred to the Army for adventure and fun, and I have never looked back.
What has been your favorite moment or part of serving?
When I was in the Air Force, we did a "Good Will" tour to Jamaica where we built schools for children. Previously, a hurricane had come through and destroyed a community. We built two schools. While we were building, people would come, thank us, and show their appreciation for what we were doing. These schools were not on some vacation spot or resort but in the areas where people in Jamaica were trying to survive. We saw first-hand how they lived. It was such a fulfilling mission. Since then, I have traveled all over the world and had similar experiences. The military has taken me to places and given me experiences I would have never had as a civilian, but the most cherished experiences were jumping out of helicopters and planes with my fellow soldiers. It is the most incredible team building experience I will ever have!
What Does the Observance Mean to You?
When I first joined, women were not allowed in many military occupational specialties, so over time, watching the military allow us to do more has been exciting and shocking. I just wished it had happened 20 years ago. I do not think we need attention, but the fact that someone is willing to dedicate a month to us, and show appreciation that we play an important role in the military, I am grateful for that.
Anything else we should know about you?
When I look back at the kid joining the Air National Guard, all those years ago, I am so grateful she made the right decision to join. Over the years when people ask me about joining, I tell them it was the smartest thing I ever did. It is an absolute privilege to wear the uniform, I am so proud to put it on and represent our country. I have thoroughly enjoyed serving in both the Air Force and the Army and I would not have changed a thing. I am grateful for all of the years I served as an enlisted Airman and Soldier, and I am grateful I commissioned as an officer. I love what I do now and I highly recommend to anyone who truly loves this country to serve her.
Left: Lt. Col. Kimberly Lawson prepares for an airborne operation.
Sgt. 1st Class Stacey Olsen
Date Joined: Dec. 11, 1997
Years of Service: 24
Why Did You Join? I always wanted to join the military but had my daughter at the age of 21, so I opted for college instead. When I was 26, I had two associate’s degrees and was struggling to find adequate employment, so I joined my dad’s unit, the 115th Maintenance Company. It was the best choice I have ever made.
What Does the Observance Mean to You?
I am extremely proud of the progress women have made in military inclusion and humbled by the incredible pioneers who paved the road for us. My grandmother, Phyllis Eleanor Murphy (shown below), was a U.S. Marine in 1942. Her father was a Naval Officer and three of her brothers served as military pilots. Closer to home, my older sister served in the Utah National Guard for about six years, and my eldest niece served about 12 years in the Air Force Reserves.
I graduated with two associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree as a single parent while working full time, and served the majority of my military career as a single parent as well. I feel that I have proven resourceful and resilient under extremely adverse conditions. It is examples like this, I feel women excel and set an impressive standard for the organization as a whole.
My career in the National Guard has allowed me to create and maintain a better life for myself and my children, as well as offering me an extended military family I have always been able to lean on in difficult times. I am so grateful for all of my experience and the amazing people I have been able to work with.
Left: Sgt. 1St Class Stacey Olsen's grandmother, Phyllis Eleanor Murphy (shown below), was a U.S. Marine in 1942
Maj. Monica Leger
Date Joined: Dec. 20, 1997
Why Did You Join? I would love to say I joined the military because there was some deep yearning to serve my county, but the truth is, at 18 years old, I had no idea what to do with my life. My parents grounded me when I joined the military because they did not understand my decision. I am not sure I understood either.
When I decided to join, it seemed like a way to do something “more.” At the time, I did not know what that meant, but through many years of personal growth, I have figured it out. For me, being “more” means being different from what people think and assume I am. Showing that I and all women, are capable of so much. If everyone forgets me when I am gone, I hope they will at least remember that they are more than they realize.
What has been your favorite moment or part of serving?
My favorite part of serving is seeing and doing things that the vast majority of people will never get to see or do. It makes me feel so fortunate to be involved in this organization.
To me, observance is remembering and respecting all those who went before you, and recognizing that through their lives, your path is a little easier. I respect all the women who paved the way for me and the other females in the military now.
I have a tendency to dance when I am working out in the gym. I blame the good music.
Maj. Tambra West
Date Joined: Oct. 1, 2002
Years of service: 19
Why Did You Join? I previously told my family and friends that I would never join and the thought of drill sergeants yelling in my face just did not appeal to me. My sister, three years my senior, had joined and seeing pictures of her with drill sergeants did not sound like my cup of tea.
Fast forward to when I was a senior in high school, and had recently attended the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program (that I now attribute to an increased love and patriotism for my country). I woke up and while watching the news getting ready to go to school, listened to a speech by then President George W. Bush, thanking service men and women for their dedication and service to our country. I knew at that moment that I could not just feel that patriotism, but I needed to do more. I needed to actively do my part and become a member of the team that protects and defends our freedoms and our country.
There are so many favorites and unique opportunities, but overall I truly love the travel, friendships, and relationships I have made with our civilian and international partners through various exercises and operations. It makes the plans, actions on paper become reality, and I get to see the depth and expanse of how important every one of our jobs are to our operations and missions in the state and across the globe.
My military family is not just my fellow service members, but includes my immediate and extended family. I married a service member, now retired, and have four sisters all currently serving in the military. I also have two brothers-in law, one currently serving and the other is a prior service veteran. My 15-month-old son also recently made me a military mom.
Above photo: Maj. Tambra West pictured with women making history in Morocco with their positions in local government in Kenitra, Morocco, April 2015
Women’s history is about appreciating and honoring those that have come before us and fought for the rights and equalities we get to live today. It is also about amazing women who are paving the way to ensuring improved opportunities and equalities for our future generations.
Maj. Tambra West poses with her four sisters, all of whom serve in the military.
1st Lt. Julie Weight
Date Joined: 21 AUG 2013
Years of Service: 7
Why Did You Join?
My older brother enlisted and came back from basic training and told me I would never be able to pass it. I took it as a challenge and enlisted. I do not like it when people tell me I cannot do something. I always try to prove them wrong. I guess that is the competitive nature within myself. Do not let the opinions of others define who you are.
In the military, females make up about 15 to20 percent of the demographics. I am proud to be able to be a part of that and continue to pave the way for females who decide to serve in the future.
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