On Monday, June 12, 2023, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners held the first annual Women Veterans Day celebration at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center on Okaloosa Island.
- The event aimed to honor the contributions of women veterans to the armed services and included a monument wall unveiling at Veterans Park, a 17.5-acre park next to the convention center that was officially opened in November 2021.
Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel kicked off the celebration by recognizing the Daughters of the American Revolution for their efforts in creating Veterans Park. She expressed her gratitude, saying, “These women have given selflessly over the last number of years to create beautiful gardens, benches, and historic plaques in our park, and for that, we are most grateful.”
- Commissioner Ketchel highlighted the significance of the Women Veterans Memorial Park, stating, “When the park was created, we hoped that this would be a special place for young girls to be inspired by the stories of these brave women.”
Commissioner Trey Goodwin introduced Lieutenant Colonel Terry Izell, the keynote speaker for the event. Commissioner Goodwin spoke highly of Lieutenant Colonel Izell’s leadership and accomplishments, saying, “She is the commander of the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here at Hurlburt Field. She leads over 700 military and civilian personnel.” He further emphasized, “She’s a proud wife and mother, and I am honored to introduce our keynote speaker this morning.”
During her keynote speech, Lieutenant Colonel Terry Izell expressed her humility and gratitude for being asked to speak at the event. Reflecting on the significance of Women Veterans Day, she shared, “It wasn’t until 2021 that Florida recognized this day specifically as Women Veterans Day. It was only in 2018 that the Veterans Affairs had labeled 12 June as Women Veterans Day to commemorate the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act that was signed into law on 12 June 1948.”
She shed light on the historical context of women’s service in the military, stating, “Historically, women were not welcome in the job of keeping America free, and yet they did it.”
Izell highlighted the stories of women like Margaret Corbin and Cathay Williams, who fought and served despite societal barriers. Lieutenant Colonel Izell’s personal connection to more recent times was evident as she stated, “For me, it is the more recent post-9/11 time period that women’s service in the military particularly stands out. A period which proved again and again the lethality of women’s courage, grit, skill, and ferocity.”
Emphasizing the importance of recognizing women veterans, Lieutenant Colonel Izell stated touched on the story of Naseema, who is featured in the park.
“My favorite memorial here is of Naseema,” she said. “Naseema’s story perfectly highlights why people, to include women, have and will always be the US military’s decisive weapon. As our country was attacked on September 11th, 2001, and we subsequently plunged headlong into war, Naseema was the sole fluent Pashto speaker in the United States Air Force.”
She went on to highlight Colonel Allison Black, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field.
“Meanwhile, an AC-130J gunship circled overhead plotting routes, communicating with ground forces, and ultimately raining down retribution on mass Taliban forces,” said Izell. “It was in this moment that an Afghan General heard then-Captain Allison Black’s voice over the radios and taunted the Taliban that a woman had come to kill them.”
For Lieutenant Colonel Izell, honoring the sacrifices, challenges, and successes of the women veterans who broke barriers is incredibly important. She says that even today, female veterans often blend into the population and don’t normally stand when asked to be recognized for their service.
“We all need connection,” she told the crowd. “Female veterans need other veterans who share their unique experiences, to lean on and to embrace. Young women need to see their mothers and aunts and sisters stand to be recognized. A day like today is important. It is important that our youth see our warriors, male and female. That they find heroes in history to inspire them to take the same oath, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to pledge their lives to this nation.”
- “It is important for Naseema’s daughters to know what their mother did for their freedom. And for Colonel Black’s sons to know how deep the roots of service run in their DNA.”
The celebration concluded with a wreath-laying ceremony and the unveiling of a new monument wall at the Women Veterans Memorial. The event provided an opportunity for the community to come together and show their appreciation for the women in our community who have served their nation.