Our women veterans share their unique stories, perspectives

Posted On: Wednesday, 12 June 2024
Our women veterans share their unique stories, perspectives

By Jennifer Donovan
Women are the fastest growing group in the veteran population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. There are currently more than 2 million female veterans in the United States and the American Legion Auxiliary will honor them June 12 on Women Veterans Day. The day is significant in military history — President Harry S. Truman signed the Women Armed Services Integration Act on June 12, 1948, allowing women to serve as regular members of the military. 
The American Legion Auxiliary counts more than 5,000 female veterans among its membership. Women veterans are eligible for the ALA through their own military service, regardless if they’re a member of The American Legion. They can be dual members (belonging to the ALA and American Legion), or they can be solely a member of the ALA or Legion. Having female veterans as members can help units identify needs that may differ from male veterans in their communities.             
Several veteran ALA members shared their experiences. Here are a few of those stories.
LaSharon Perez
Unit 574, Department of California
Dual member and U.S. Navy veteran

LaSharon Perez is dedicated to assisting fellow veterans and others in her community. She serves in leadership roles in both the ALA and The American Legion. 
Perez joined the American Legion Auxiliary in order to connect with like-minded individuals who shared her devotion to serving veterans and their communities. 
“It provides a platform for me to collaborate on projects and initiatives I’m passionate about,” said Perez. “It provides me additional opportunities to make a meaningful difference in the lives of veterans and their families while also fostering personal growth, community engagement, and camaraderie.” 
Perez brings a unique perspective to the ALA with firsthand knowledge of military service and the challenges veterans, especially female veterans, face. This knowledge helps her unit with programs and initiatives. 
“I am able to advocate effectively for the needs of veterans and their families,” said Perez. “With my credibility and firsthand understanding of veterans’ issues, I am able to amplify the ALA’s advocacy efforts at local and state levels.”

Perez uses her connections within the military and veteran community to expand her unit’s reach and impact. She understands the importance of checking in on veterans. In fact, she initiated Buddy Checks for her post home. 
“As a veteran, I carry unseen burdens and struggles that others may not fully understand. However, through my involvement with the ALA, I’ve found a space where I can channel negative energy into positive action by assisting fellow veterans. The camaraderie and understanding within the ALA community have allowed me to connect with others who share similar experiences, providing a sense of solidarity and validation,” said Perez. “Moreover, being part of the ALA has deepened my empathy and compassion toward my fellow veterans. 

By actively engaging in initiatives and programs aimed at supporting veterans, I’ve gained insight into their diverse challenges and issues. This understanding enables me to offer genuine empathy, support, and guidance to my peers, who may be facing similar struggles.” 
Perez is also passionate about education. As Education chair for her unit, she initiated the Give 10 program for ALA Unit 574 and created a scholarship program with hopes of at least three local high school students receiving a scholarship in 2024.
Tricia Thurston
Unit 24, Department of Maine 
Dual member and U.S. Navy veteran

Tricia Thurston enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. 
“I remember my mother having to sign for me due to being underage. I turned 18 years old in boot camp,” said Thurston. “I went into the Navy without a guaranteed A school [training program]. It’s crazy to realize how brave I was to do this.” 
Her first duty station was in Scotland, where she met her future husband, Kirk. Following marriage, the couple moved to California, where she served in the Navy Reserve, until their move to Japan.
Thurston first learned of The American Legion Family when her husband joined The American Legion through the mail, before ever visiting a post. Soon after he joined, they attended a local event and discovered his post was being revitalized and seeking new officers. To their surprise, he was nominated for 2nd vice commander of the post. Shortly after he took office, he encouraged Thurston to check out the Legion and join. 
“He said, ‘You know you can join as well.’ I answered, ‘I don’t think so, I am not a veteran. I didn’t go to war or retire after 20 years.’ He shared, ‘Yes, you are. You served,’” said Thurston. “For some reason, I never thought of myself as a veteran. I was never told I was a veteran or was looked at as a veteran.” 
This moment changed her thoughts on what a veteran is. 
“It was then and the fact that I joined The American Legion in 2006 that I could stand taller as a woman veteran and also fight for others who also do not realize they are a veteran or considered a veteran by others,” she said. 
Thurston also joined the ALA at the same time she became a Legionnaire. 
“With my husband becoming involved with the Legion, I decided to join both the Legion and the Auxiliary,” said Thurston. “He served for 20 years. I was a Navy spouse longer than I served our great country. My comfort level at this time was with other spouses and those who were eligible through their family’s service.”
“I feel that I bring experiences of being both a veteran and a spouse of a veteran. As a veteran, I bring education that women are veterans too,” said Thurston. 
She urges members to not make assumptions that someone is or is not a veteran based on their sex. Women veterans have unique experiences and it’s important for them to share ideas and information with fellow members to provide support in their communities. 
Thurston’s post home offers unique activities for women veterans. One of those is the Annual Women Veterans Luncheon, which they have hosted for 10 years. 
“We provide service officers, VA representatives, etc.,” said Thurston. “We have provided a safe place year after year for women veterans to come to and know they can come back and experience the camaraderie we are all used to.” She said they have women veterans who return each year and those who attend for the first time. 
“There are no strangers among us. From beginning to end, we laugh, cry, applaud each other, show respect to our flag and country, remember our comrades who have gone before us, support each other, watch some outstanding performances, eat amazing food, and have a fabulous day,” said Thurston. “And we cannot do this without the support that our amazing unit members give. These members give 100% support to these luncheons, along with our Sons of The American Legion and Legionnaires. It is truly a Legion Family event.” 
I am very proud of my service, said Thurston. 
“I credit the Legion and the Auxiliary for this,” she said. “Before the experiences with this organization, I did not really think about that fact that I was a veteran. I learned how to be on my own and gain the confidence to do so.”  
Davielle Hawks
Unit 202, Department of Maine 
Dual member and U.S. Air Force Reserve veteran

Davielle Hawks enlisted after a recruiter reached out to her after learning about her story and seeing her photography in a local cafĂ©. At the time, she was a single mother working three jobs. 
Hawks’ journey in The American Legion Family began with a post on Facebook. The local Legion was looking for volunteer bartenders. 
“When I began bartending at the post, I made amazing connections which allowed me to continue to support veteran nonprofits while also learning about the benefits of being a Legion member,” said Hawks. “I received the mental health support I needed while also supporting programs.”
Hawks has a heart for volunteering and knew she had more to give and could make an impact with her perspective as a veteran. 
“I joined the ALA because I saw an opportunity for the ALA to make a difference for spouses, their children, and veterans,” said Hawks. “I think it has brought a new understanding on what veterans go through on a regular basis and how those problems and concerns affect the whole family. I think about if this were me, how would I want the situation or support handled? I think that has brought in different ideas and has brought the ALA closer in working with our Legion Family.”
“My unit has created a space for family members to seek advice or help. While not every veteran is the same nor are their experiences, it has allowed members to ask questions or resources to help their family,” she said. 
Due to her military experience, she also recognizes some of the warning signs that others may not. 
“We had an ALA member who was struggling to get their loved one help with mental health,” Hawks said. "They approached me and asked for resources. The family member was struggling to have a conversation, and I provided them with a VA contact who could provide more support. I was then able to connect with the post commander who reached out to the Legion member doing Buddy Checks, and because of that, we were able to get the veteran help.”
Hawks can also provide her fellow ALA members advice on serving women veterans. 
“I think it helps many members of the ALA with what it means to be a woman in the military. While not every veteran’s experience is the same, it is different for women. I can only relate this back to my own experience, but leaving my child for extended periods of time crushed me. I had an amazing support system back home, but not many women did or do. It takes a different mental strength to serve as a female,” said Hawks. “I was told countless times, I would never amount to anything, I wasn’t good enough, that a female like me will never make a difference. As women in the workforce, many of us have heard these words. Being able to make those connections and relate to each other as women is so important.”
“I think we need to continue to encourage veterans to be a part of different areas in our Legion Family. I think the diversity of thought and perspective is needed to make real and meaningful change,” said Hawks. “I think change is possible, and I encourage any veteran to be a part of The American Legion Family.”
Growing amount of women veterans 
As the number of females entering the military grows, so will the number of women veterans in your community. Honor and recognize these veterans on June 12 and continue to find ways to support them and include them in the ALA throughout the year. If you have a story about your unit and women veterans, we’d love to hear about it. You can email us at ALAMagazine@ALAforVeterans.org.
Women have served in the military throughout U.S. history

  • Civil War: 400 women 
  • World War I: 35,000 women
  • World War II: 350,000 women 
  • Korean War: 120,000 women
  • Vietnam War: 265,000 women
June 12, 1948 – President Harry S. Truman signs the Women Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women to serve as regular members of the military. Women Veterans Day is not officially observed in every state. It is currently a state-recognized commemoration in 14 states.
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.