Women Veterans Day, also referred to as Women Veterans Appreciation Day or Women Veterans Recognition Day, honors women who have served or are serving in the military. First observed on June 12, 2018, organizers chose the anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act being signed into law in 1948 as the official date of the remembrance, according to VA News. Before the act was passed, women could serve only as nurses in the regular and reserve forces during peacetime. After the act, women were able to serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
In honor of Women Veterans Day, local veteran Kathleen Gamblin is sharing her experience of serving almost seven years in the U.S. Air Force, which she joined in 1997.
The Kennesaw resident — one of 16.5 million veterans (and 1.65 million female veterans) living in the United States in 2021, according to census data — felt her path into the service was a bit different than most.
“I had been working as a nurse and living in Florida for about two years,” Gamblin said. “I knew that there was something else I wanted to do, and I started exploring my options. I was looking through a nursing magazine one day, and there was an advertisement for the Air Force Nurse Corps.”
Her father, uncle and the man she was dating at the time all served in the Air Force — and her grandfather was in the U.S. Army during World War I — so she was intrigued.Since she already was helping others as a nurse, stepping into a bigger role of service seemed like a good decision, although she admits she had no idea what she was getting into.
“While I had family that had been in the Air Force, it had been years before,” she said. “I had one acquaintance in nursing school who had served in the Air Force, but I didn’t really know anybody close that had gone into the military. So it was definitely a whole new experience for me.”
Gamblin served stateside and is thankful to have been stationed at three different bases during her career, which she said is rare unless you have been in for many years. After completing officer training, she served as a nurse at Travis Air Force Base in California, Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
The nurse recalled two memorable experiences from her time in the Air Force, which expects its personnel to also participate in activities outside their primary job. “I served as an escort officer for a one-star general at a conference on the base,” she said. “That was definitely an interesting experience and a chance to see the other sides of the military structure.”
But the most profound experience Gamblin had was participating in a repatriation ceremony. She said the military is still searching for and identifying the remains of soldiers from the Vietnam War and bringing them home.
“They actually had remains that they were able to bring home,” she said. “They bring them to Hawaii for DNA identification, and then they fly that service member, typically, through Travis Air Force Base. To pay military honors, the plane is always greeted by military members, and I was part of the group to welcome the soldier home. Realizing this man had been gone, at that time, for 50 years, and his family had not known where he was or what had happened to him made welcoming him home that much more special. At that time, we had not seen 9/11 or the war in Afghanistan and the casualties we’ve seen in the last 10-15 years. So it was a great connection to what people and their families truly sacrifice.”
One lesson Gamblin learned from her time in the military was to always be involved in more than just her traditional job — a lesson that has served her well. She said she has supported multiple organizations and causes, but her main focus and passion is working with cancer patients and connecting them to resources. She also serves as a mentor to young adults who are interested in joining the military and offers assistance to new Air Force Nurse Corps students. Although she did not see combat, her husband did. He is a member of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, which they, along with their two daughters, support as a family.
Gamblin offered a piece of advice to those who are considering military service.
“The military is that last area where you don’t get to put yourself first,” she said. “The needs of the military are first, and you’re serving others. But in giving up myself and my own desires or wishes, what I gained from that experience was incredible.”
She said serving gave her a better understanding of how the country works and about the sacrifices made by people in the military, even during peacetime, as well as the opportunity to learn about other cultures. She also learned discipline and developed a stronger drive to work toward the greater good.
– Nicole Smith is a writer, book influencer, dog mom and plant enthusiast living in Kennesaw. Connect with her on Instagram @booked4joy.