top of page
Podcast Transcript

Service And Sacrifice

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:11  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, I'm just gonna admit this right up front. I'm a little nervous about today's episode.

Marsha Clark  0:27  
Well, Wendi, what are you nervous about?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:29  
Well, it's the first time we've specifically done an episode in recognition of Memorial Day. And I just want to make sure that we honor the incredible service and sacrifice of so many people. And so I'm a little nervous about how important the conversation is today.

Marsha Clark  0:35  
I get it now. And that makes sense. And I'm right there with you. You know, we've talked about some pretty serious topics before. And you're right. Today's is not only a first but definitely very special and poignant. And we do want to honor the reverence of Memorial Day, particularly, and especially recognizing women who have served and sacrificed for our country while we're also getting a chance to introduce two very special guests who are both veterans, and we want to hear about their own experiences and lessons learned while serving in the military. So welcome to you Diana Echols from Seattle, Washington area, and Stephanie Cleveland from right here in Frisco.

Diana Echols  1:26  
Thank you. So glad to be here.

Stephanie Cleveland  1:28  
Really glad to be here.

Marsha Clark  1:29  
Well, I know we're going to hear about your individual stories in a little more detail in a few minutes. But before we go there, will you share just a very quick intro about which branch of the military you served in when you served and your ending rank. And Diana, we'll start with you.

Diana Echols  1:46  
Sure. So I was in the United States Air Force and the United States Air Force Reserve. I served a total of 30 years, five years active 25 years reserve. I went in as an airman basic, and I retired in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel.

Marsha Clark  2:01  
Woo hoo! Awesome. And Stephanie.

Stephanie Cleveland  2:04  
Hi. Okay, so I also joined when I was 20. But I joined the U.S. Navy back in 1992. I served eight years, most of that was school. I served in NAS Keflavik Iceland, Norfolk, Virginia, Memphis, Tennessee, NAS Jacksonville and left as a petty officer second class, which is an E5 of, you know, avionics technician.

Marsha Clark  2:05  
All right. So impressive. Thank you both very much.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:14  
Yes, thank you both for your service. And considering that our focus today is on honoring women serving our country, I'd like to offer up some research for context, first, on Memorial Day in general, and then more specifically on the history of women in the military.

Marsha Clark  2:53  
And you know, I always love this part, because I always learn a lot. You and Tracie do so much great research. And this is an educational podcast. So here we go.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:00  
Exactly. So this information comes primarily from the National Archives and also from the History Channel. So Memorial Day actually started out being called Decoration Day. And it began as a way for communities to come together and commemorate those who died after the Civil War. And communities would have Memorial celebrations, decorate the graves of soldiers who died during the war. And one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. So within three years, the idea of an annual day in remembrance of those who had served had taken hold and General John A. Logan was the leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, and he called for a nationwide Day of Remembrance later that month. And to quote him, he said, "The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie almost in every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land." So, at that time, that date it was called Decoration Day and it was chosen because it wasn't the anniversary of any particular battle. So that's important. And on the first Decoration Day General James Garfield made a speech at the Arlington National Cemetery. 5,000 participants actually decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there at that time.

Marsha Clark  4:53  
And Wendi I just want to stop and just take a moment to paint that picture for any of our listeners who have ever been to Arlington National Cemetery, or have seen just the iconic images of row after row after row of those small white markers on the hills, it really does take your breath away. I've been there several times. And here they were. 5,000 people reverently placing decorations on those 20,000 graves. I mean it, really and truly, it gives me goosebumps.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:24  
Yeah, yeah. So another goosebump moment, Marsha, is to think that while there were 20,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery, then the records tell us that there were more than 620,000 military deaths from the Civil War, so roughly 2% of the total population at that time.

Marsha Clark  5:46  
Wow. And Stephanie, I'm imagining that you've been there so I'd love to hear your thought, I mean, what it means to you given the role that you played in service.

Stephanie Cleveland  5:56  
Well, you know, to be honest, I'm, I'm sad to say that as many times as I've visited Washington, D.C. for business, the only time I've been able to see Arlington National Cemetery is in the taxi on the way to the airport. And but even from that vantage point, it makes your heart stop. You just you suck in a breath when you see it. It's, it's amazing. And it really does represent sacrifice.

Marsha Clark  6:20  
Yeah. Well, and I think about 620,000. I think we lost more in the Ciivil War than any other war to date. So Diana, how about you?

Diana Echols  6:30  
Yeah, I've had the honor to go there multiple times. I had an early mentor that was interred there. And I also have a great uncle who was a World War II pilot that's interred there. I think, you know, Marsha, you talked about seeing the rows and rows and rows of graves. I want to just add in that one of the poignant things for me is the fact that some angles of the Pentagon, you can view Arlington National Cemetery. So I always like to, I like to think that maybe some leaders are looking out that window and reflecting on the cost to our national treasure when we make decisions about putting our youngsters in harm's way. So I hope at least that that happens, that they can see it and they think about those things.

Marsha Clark  7:13  
That's a wonderful, I hope so too, a wonderful consideration. And, you know, I always believe things happen for a reason. And so the way that the Pentagon, where it was built in relationship to, I mean, all of those things. It's connected.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  7:28  
Well, and I had no idea that Memorial Day went all the way back to the Civil War era. I mean, obviously, since the, the day has been modernized to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And another change was the actual date. Pretty much for the first 100 years Memorial Day was observed on May 30th, which was the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But then in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which set Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. And that law went into effect in 1971, which is what we've been following ever since allowing for that three day extended weekend to commemorate Memorial Day. So there you go, Memorial Day history 101 here on the podcast.

Marsha Clark  8:24  
There you go, again, educational. So Diana and Stephanie, I know both of you come from pretty strong military families. And we're going to explore that in just a moment. But as a bit of transition, given your family's deep roots in the military, was Memorial Day an extra special day for you growing up or even now, as someone who has served, do you create a special moment for you and your loved ones in these day?. So Stephanie, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Stephanie Cleveland  8:50  
Well, so growing up, I grew up in a somewhat small town in Oklahoma. And so Memorial Day was always commemorated with a parade and of course, the little flags and poppies and everything. And of course, American Legion and VFW were always a big part of, of course, any town, but especially small town Oklahoma. So that was always a tradition and our family was military, but we were kind of dispersed. So we didn't celebrate that together.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:19  
Okay. All right, Diana, how about you?

Diana Echols  9:22  
Yeah, not as much. I mean, I am in a military family. I grew up on military bases. As a matter of fact, I spent six years in Oklahoma, so I mentioned there, but well, we didn't, I mean, service was just part of our lives. I mean, both my grandparents, many of my great uncles, and of course, my father served and I don't know. We didn't, we didn't really reflect on Memorial Day, kind of separately when I was growing up. As an adult it has certainly taken on much more meaning for me and so more than just flying my flag. I like to help people understand that, you know, as Wendi mentioned, we have that three day weekend, but it's, you know, think about that three day weekend. It's just not I'm extended time to go kick off summer, right? We're honoring people for their sacrifice. So that's, that's how I hold it in my heart now is thinking about the sacrifices so many people have made, and not just service people but their families.

Marsha Clark  10:12  
Yeah. And you know, I think about that, and it is more than a three day weekend. I mean, I know that whole congressional act and all that kind of stuff was made for convenience of people's planning. But it is more than that. And I agree with you, Diana, the older I get the more meaningful some of these things become because you, you've gained enough life perspective to really understand the depth of what people did in all of those wartime events. So it's amazing.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  10:41  
And to Marsha's point from a moment ago, we do want to hear from both of you on your stories of what motivated you to join the military. Was this an expectation of your families or were they surprised? I mean, how did that happen? So tell us briefly what your background is on joining the military. Diana, let's start with you.

Diana Echols  11:00  
Yeah, I think a little bit of a surprise. So I dropped out of college after a couple years, I wasn't prepared, think I was just wasting my father's money and wasn't doing well. You know, after two years, I had a 1.9 GPA and, and I was on academic probation. And so I dropped out and kind of drifted for a year. So I ended up joining the military when I was 20. I think my family was a bit surprised. I was a theater kid. So you know, I was off doing, you know, crazy theater things and the the structure and the formality of the Air Force, I think that really surprised them. And you know, halfway through basic training, they said, oh, you're going to be a cook. And I was like, oh, wait, that's not right. You know, and, and luckily, luckily, my TI, technical training instructor said, oh, wait, we see more in you. You don't, we don't want you to be, I mean, nothing against cooks, right, because cooks are very important. But I think that there's more meant for you. And I became a cop, which was even stranger. So I did that for five years. But in that time, I got to Germany. And while I was in Germany, I got selected to be an instructor. And the theater kid in me really linked with that, because I was up in front of people. I really, I really found my calling, which I think is coaching, teaching adults, coaching and teaching and leading. And I really enjoyed that. So I spent three years in Germany, transferred back to the States, got picked up to go to investigator school. And then they said, oh, by the way, you need to re enlist or get out. I was a little nervous at that time, because there was starting to be a lot of digging around into people's personal lives. I'm a lesbian. I was a little concerned that I would be outed so I said, you know what, I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna go ahead and get out, go back to school full time and go pursue that degree in theater, which I did. But I joined the Reserves. So I ended up going into the reserves, cross trained as an aircraft mechanic, did that another five years, and then got really blessed and ended up getting a commission and serving an additional 20. So that's...

Marsha Clark  13:03  
There you go. What a story. Wow.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:06  
So Stephanie?

Stephanie Cleveland  13:07  
Well, mine was a little similar. I was kind of hovering around at going to college, and not really showing up for class that much. And so, my mom was ready for me to put to put down some some sort of roots and at a dinner with friends, they were talking about how great the Air Force Reserves were. And, and so my best friend at the time and I decided, well, this sounds fun. You know, just one weekend a month and, and then, you know, two weeks during the summer or something. So my big idea because I lived in Oklahoma, which is a big Air Force state and my town was actually an Air Force base town. So I thought, well, I'm going in the Navy because if I'm going somewhere for two weeks, it's going to be San Diego. So I had a very slick recruiter. I took the what's the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the ASVAB. A lot of students take it, don't really realize what it is. So I was in college, I wanted to be a writer. Journalism, that was my thing. I ended up scoring really high in engineering, which was not anything I was interested in. But that led me to going into a very specialized rating, which was avionics, engineering and, and calibration, which further specialized me in the military. So my boot camp was a very Private Benjamin experience, kind of, you know, they say, if you didn't want to be here, you didn't have to get on that bus. Cleveland, put your hand down and I'm like, I didn't want to be here. It isn't what I thought so my family was excited because I definitely needed some structure, but I jumped in with both feet and didn't really know what to expect. Turned out to be the best thing for me. I actually really kind of grew into that role and which is funny because I was not bothering with structure in college, but I stepped into superstructure. Also, just to note, my best friend at the time totally ditched me, didn't sign up. So I went by myself. Yeah, but it turned out to be a really good experience. You know, I learned a lot about who I am and what I'm capable of. And I think I needed that time to be truly independent. So.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  15:32  
Yeah, it sounds like serving in the military provided you both with chances to grow. So will you share with our listeners an example of a lesson or two that really stuck with you from those early years? Stephanie, let's start with you.

Stephanie Cleveland  15:45  
Oh, sure. You know, I think, and I think one of the things that really hit me. I grew up in a, like I said, a small town in Oklahoma. My dad was the high school principal, everybody knew my family, in the town where my grandparents lived. Everyone knew, it seemed like everyone knew the Cleveland's. So I sort of lived in the shadow, which I thought was good. But, but there was a moment in boot camp. There's all these women from all over the country, and from every socio economic background. None of them knew who my family were, and not a one of them cared. My company commander did not care. If I failed, Stephanie Cleveland failed. If I excelled, Stephanie Cleveland excelled. And so it was this moment of realizing that I can either  do well or do poorly, and people will either like you or dislike you based on you and you alone. And it was even though that seems like it might be scary, it was actually incredibly liberating to realize that I have, I have the ability to be Stephanie Cleveland outside of the shadow of you know, the principal's daughter or, or whatever. So that was something that, that I think really set the stage for the rest of my journey.

Marsha Clark  16:03  
You know, Stephanie, I think about that, and I say, how many of us would like to just start with a blank sheet of paper and create the life where you know, the persona and all that goes along with it. So the freedom associated with that, and the responsibility associated with that. I love that. Thank you. That's  wonderful. So Diana, how about you?

Diana Echols  17:31  
You know, when I first enlisted, like I said, my family was surprised. You know, my father was a Mustang, he was an enlisted officer. So he had spent some time in the enlisted ranks. And when I told him I was enlisting, you know, he gave me some advice. And and he said, you need to treat everyone with respect. And that sounds common sense. On the surface, it sounds pretty like, yeah, well, well done. Right? You treat everyone with respect. But you know, in the military, it's very hierarchical. And obviously, you're going to treat people with respect that are like in your chain of command, you know, your supervisor, your NCOs, your officers, etc. But his point was bigger than that, and that is that there are so many people around you doing so many things, treat them all with respect. You know, you don't just look at the folks that are in your chain of command. But you think about the folks that are off in the corners doing the hard work that nobody sees, right, the unglamorous stuff, the people who are cooking, the people who are guarding, the people who are doing paperwork, driving the bus, you know, gassing up the jet, right? So all of those people need to be treated with that same level of respect. It's just being a basic, decent, kind human being. I think that that was a really good lesson that I learned, especially because my first job, you know, I was, I was in law enforcement. And I was on gates and I waved traffic. And I talked to people coming in every day, and just treating all those people with respect, regardless of their stories, right, regardless of what's going on around you. So I would say that that really cemented for me in first few years was how important it is to just treat everybody with the same basic level of respect.

Marsha Clark  19:04  
Inside of a very, as you said, a very hierarchical institution, right. I mean, just the thinking about the military is very hierarchical. I also think about as you were waving people in and meeting all those different people, the repetitiveness of that made it, it creates the habits, right, the patterns, the defaults that say, I do it hundreds of times a week, and now that's the way it happens every single day, almost automatically. And that certainly shows up in the way you do live your life today, Diana, I can say that for sure. And one thing that I found is that, you know, over a lifetime of lessons we learned to I call it reframing experiences. The experience gets broader, it gets deeper, it takes on different texture and and some would call that wisdom. So this question can be related to your experience in the military or over the course of your career. So are there any lessons that you've reframed, and so they have a different meaning or perspective for you now based on things that happened to you, during your military service? So, Diana, what can you offer us there?

Diana Echols  20:10  
That's an interesting question. And I think about my own feelings of how I feel about how we expend our national treasure and how I feel about how we use the military as an instrument of national will. And I'm not always aligned with what our leadership is doing. So there's like, I didn't really think the Iraq war was the right way to go. However, you know, I'm an officer in the United States Air Force, and I had been tasked to deploy to Iraq, and lead a squadron. So I had to reframe that in my mind. Right. So I'm going to be a squadron commander in Iraq. And I'm going to have 120, some odd mixture of you know, a rainbow mixture of reservists and guardsmen and active duty and we've all got a mission that we've got to go do. So how did I how did I align, right, this cognitive dissonance of I don't really agree with this war, but here I am having to lead. And the way I reframed it was these kids didn't join the military because they wanted to go to Iraq. They joined the military because they needed a way to get education, they needed structure, they needed a job, they needed a way to get out of their hometown in small town, Oklahoma, wherever that might be, right. And so those kids deserve good leadership. And so regardless of what I think about the reason why we were there, my responsibility, and this is how I really reframed it, my responsibility was to be a good leader. My responsibility was to do everything I could to make sure those kids had (I say kids, I don't mean disrespect), how to make sure that those young Americans had everything they needed to succeed and come home on an airplane in a seat and not in a body bag.

Marsha Clark  21:51  
Diana. I'm sorry, but that's just another powerful moment.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  21:58  
So Stephanie, what about you? How did you reframe?

Stephanie Cleveland  22:01  
Gosh, mine is not nearly as as deep as that. So I think mine's a little more, more to do with shaping me to become an adult. So even though I had my moment of understanding, you know, that I had this responsibility to become who I should be. There was, you know, there was one specific moment that I remember when I was in NASC, Schofield, which was Jacksonville, Florida. And I had come back from vacation. And I had been taken out of the avionics laboratory and put in to what was kind of an intake center where you check in the electronics that the you know, the the flight crews bring in. It was not, it was not a good move. It was not seen as a promotion. It was seen, that's where you go when you're on like restricted duty or something. So I was all up in arms, like why on earth did I get put down here? So my supervisor was Chief McKenna, but the other assistant supervisor was a really good friend of mine. And so here I was just railing about the unfairness of me being put in this intake room. And he was delicate enough but pointed and said, you know, before you go complaining to Chief McKenna, you got to make sure all your ducks are in a row. And boy, that hit me because he was right. I was actually a really awful an awful, I guess, Airman at the time, I just I I wasn't living up to the job. I wasn't, I was doing bare minimum. And so you know, at the time, I decided I was not going to go and holier than now get on my soapbox to Chief McKenna and give him the opportunity to explain to me why I was not the not the prime example of a sailor at the time. And so anyway, the the lesson that came away from that with me, and I still think of today is personal accountability. That you know, if if my situation is not optimal, and I'm not happy in it, what have I done to create that situation and what can I do to make it better before I start looking for any outward unfairness or unjust things. So that's that's something that that sticks with me today. And I use that as a supervisor within my own company to make sure that before we complain about something being unfair or unjust, make sure that we've done all we can.

Marsha Clark  24:42  
You know, I often, our listeners have heard me say there is no accountability without consequences. And  there were consequences. You didn't like it. And that happens and we earn them, right. And we earn them. t I love the humility of that story and the fact that you could reframe it to this is going to make me a better person, not just a better, you know, military person or naval person but a better person. And the lesson has continued forever.

Stephanie Cleveland  25:12  
Yes. And I use it with my kids as well.

Marsha Clark  25:14  
There you go. Well, I know that both of you talked about, you know, having a history of military in your family. And yet, did you or your families ever feel like that at any time that that sacrifice, that choice to go to the military was just too great a risk. And how did that, how did you work through that, if you will? So, Stephanie, how about you?

Stephanie Cleveland  25:39  
Well, you know, my family, it has been serving in the military for years. In fact, my, my mother was a military, a navy brat. And, and so they had lived all over Baghdad. Two of my uncles and aunts were born in Baghdad, and so she grew up with that was the expectation. You move, you serve you, you know, so, and because of the job that I had, it wasn't inherently dangerous. So, no. There wasn't any concern over that. Now. You know, once my son was born, then there was the undue sacrifice of my mother having to be without her grandchild for extended periods of time. But, but that's really, that was the the most of it. We all understood the sacrifice, and nobody really complained.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:31  
All right, Diana, how about you?

Diana Echols  26:33  
Mine's a little more personal. My family was more concerned because of my personal life, that I was putting myself into a risky situation, you know, just being gay. And they were concerned about that. But you know, I navigated it and managed to complete my career without too many bumps in the road. And I just do want to point out that Marsha, I think back on a conversation you and I had years ago, where we talk about core values, and one of my core values has always been integrity. And so how do I, how do I deal with that dissonance of integrity of this military doesn't want me to serve because I'm gay, but I really want to serve. So how do you balance that and, of course, that's the risk that my my family was worried about. But you know, I think back to those Revolutionary War and Civil War women who wanted to serve and hid their gender in order to be able to serve, and I kind of look at it the same way. I felt like my desire to serve outweighed any concerns about what I felt was a stupid rule. And so that's how I managed to overcome that risk and just do it anyway.

Marsha Clark  27:37  
I love that too, Diana. I mean, this, yes, there's going to be risk inherent, and I'm gonna, I'm gonna make it work. And you do that as well as anybody I know. And so it's, it's amazing. It's amazing. All these, the things that can happen and how we choose to manage or respond to them.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  27:56  
Yeah, so you both have had very successful careers outside the military. Besides the impactful lessons you've learned related to your time serving our country, what would you say are a couple of other key leadership lessons that you've picked up along the way you think our listeners would benefit from hearing?

Stephanie Cleveland  28:15  
Oh, wow. So you know, in the military, you spend a lot of time, you're serving on watches, sometimes 24 hours, there's a plane down and you're stuck in the shop until that plane gets up with a you know everything up the chain of command yelling down on on your shoulders to get that plane back up, but I had a job to do and my name and number were were going to be on that airplane on that calibrated, you know, altimeters, things like that. So if something went wrong, it wasn't my commander whose hiney was on the line, it was mine. And so I think that, that lesson kind of goes to, you know, something that that Diana said that every person is doing a job and deserves its respect, every job is important. So you have to respect the job, the person. But also, you know, one thing that I take very seriously now in you know, in my corporate career is kind of a work life balance. So that also feeds to understanding that you respect the people that work for you and the people you work for. And that makes them better employees. Respect who they are not just for what they're giving to you on paper as their job but who they are outside of work hours, what motivates them, volunteer work or whatever that is, but respecting each person for for the wholeness of who they are is very important in corporate and then of course, in the military.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  29:54  
Diana, what about you?

Diana Echols  29:56  
First, I gotta say Stephanie 100%. Where I work now we like to say plus one. So I'm going to like plus one man. Yeah, totally on point. I will say, two quick things. The first one is take advantage of every opportunity that's in front of you. And I'd like to just say that, you know, Marsha put an opportunity in front of me right after 911, when she made the decision to offer up the first session of Power of Self free. And I was one of the lucky recipients of that, of that, of that risk that she took. And, you know, somebody else in my company was like, yeah, I don't want to do that. And the opportunity was put in front of me. And I doubt if there had been tuition charged that my company would have gone for it. So I'm just really glad that that happened. Because the the leadership lessons that I picked up in that class were just, that year, were just foundational for me. And then I tie that into something else that I learned from one of my early mentors, a guy named Rob Skeens, he was my commander for a number of years. And Rob told me that your job as a leader is to understand your people and find where they fit. Because people don't, this is a truism, we hear it all the time, people don't come to work wanting to do a bad job, right. So your job as a leader is to find out and help them meet their niche, put them where they can do the most with their with their talents, right. So I would say that finding how people can best further the goals of themselves and the organization is the most powerful thing you can do as a leader. It's helping people find their fit.

Marsha Clark  31:36  
Yeah, I think about the test that you were talking about earlier, that pegged you into things that you might not have even known you were capable of doing. And then that you got the practice of that and it built a whole set of foundational skills. Yeah, and I love that, Diana. That's great.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  31:52  
So when we opened this episode, we spent a little time exploring the history of Memorial Day in general. And then I mentioned that we would also dig into the specific history of women in the military. And just real quickly there, there are two resources I'd like to highlight that have some some really good information. And the first is from the USO on their website, And if you go there, you'll see a tab for stories in their navigation. And when you click on that, and then scroll down, you'll find an article written by a Danielle de Simone on Tuesday, February 28 of this year 2023, titled "Over 200 Years of Service: The History of Women in the U.S. Military". And the images in the stories there of women serving our country since the Revolutionary War, are just fascinating, compelling, inspiring, motivating. I mean, and it's a really pretty short read and so worth it. So for example, did you realize that it was just a decade ago in 2013, that the announcement ending the ban on women in combat was made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. I didn't know that. I found that out. The ban was officially lifted entirely in 2015 which allowed female service members to serve direct on the ground in combat roles.

Marsha Clark  33:17  
So how did that hit? Was that a good thing, I mean, how did you feel about that?

Stephanie Cleveland  33:22  
So I think it was a good thing. I remember being in, I was kind of an ambassador speaking at high schools while I was in the military and some young girl asked about the nuclear program, and the recruiter behind me said, well, women can't serve in nuclear roles. And I didn't realize that. I turned around and said, "What?" because I just, I was furious. Like, how could that possibly, those were such lucrative careers outside of the military how could that? So yeah, I don't think there should have ever been a ban on you know, women serving in combat. It's very old thinking but, you know, little late, but glad it finally came around.

Marsha Clark  34:04  
Anything to add, Diana?

Diana Echols  34:06  
Yeah, it's not just the civilian careers. It's a barrier to leadership in the military. Yeah, you don't have in the army, if you don't have the combat patch, or the Air Force, if you're not a rated combat pilot, then you know, it's difficult to advance. So another barrier that we had to overcome.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  34:22  
Yeah. So there's a couple of other statistics from the page that I thought were really eye opening, and I found this stat. Since the opening of combat positions to women, several female servicemembers have trained to step into these new roles. So over the past seven years, 100 women have graduated from the Army's Ranger School, which, oh my gosh, and others have successfully completed the Navy SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, proving that women's capabilities and even these most rigorous and challenging assignments. We can do these things, like we can do hard things, and women continue to make history in the military today pushing boundaries and taking on more challenging roles, more prestigious roles than ever before. And so, last item I'm going to throw at everybody is more than 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 911. More than 9,000 have earned combat action badges. And today, women make up 16% of our nation's armed forces serving in every branch of the U.S. military.

Stephanie Cleveland  35:35  
That's really an improvement from when I was in.

Marsha Clark  35:40  
Well, I'm thinking we make progress on you know, every year, and so on. But those are very impressive numbers, and how quickly that can happen when you think, you know, as you said, it's a little late. But you know, we're moving.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  35:53  
Yeah. One last thing I want to share about the Those pages are professionally produced and are maintained. The entire website is a labor of love of one woman, Captain Barbara Ann Wilson. And this website looks a little bit more like a personal scrapbook written using HTML code. And it's it's tribute to women in the military. I mean, it's just it's what I really recommend this, you accessing this URL. And rather than reading it here on the podcast, we'll have that in the text notes because it's kind of complicated. But you can get a peek into her service record and history, Captain Wilson's, both in the military and her community once she retired. And one interesting side note about Captain Wilson is that she actually achieved the rank of Major that, according to her site, she declined and returned. What does that mean? Stephanie, Diana?

Stephanie Cleveland  36:58  
So you know, I can't speak to that. I'd really be interested to learn more about what, was it you know, a move of protest or a personal life decision? I know, my grandfather did when, but his was because he didn't want to accept a new post and wanted to retire where he was. So he didn't accept the commission to the next level. But hers I'd be really curious to understand why.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  37:26  
Yeah. Diana, thoughts on that?

Diana Echols  37:29  
I don't understand that. Yeah, I don't understand the term returned either. I mean, I do know somebody who's done that but it was for the same reason. I served with a an amazing Colonel, Colonel Kathy Clothier from McConnell in Kansas and she was appointed a brigadier general. And she declined. And I think it was for personal reasons. She wanted to be with her family. But yeah, that's, that's pretty amazing.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  37:51  
Yeah. So Captain Barb's website, Captain Wilson, Barbara Wilson's website is copyright dated up to 2010. So it's been a while since it's been updated. But on the main index page of her site, she opens with this introduction. "Did you know there are almost 2 million women veterans from the American Revolution to Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Women have served in some way in every conflict, not that they were legal in the early days. History tells us that 33,000 women served in World War I, and almost 500,000 took part in World War II. During the Korean era, 120,000 women were in uniform. 7,000 were deployed in theater during Vietnam. And during Desert Storm, 7% of the total U.S. armed forces deployed were women, which was over 40,000. And on these pages, you will find the history and accomplishments of those women who have served this country voluntarily since the beginning." Wow.

Marsha Clark  38:57  
It is, it's amazing when you think about those, just the numbers and the fact that the voluntarily part being you know, underlined, and emphasized in that regard. For love of country.

Stephanie Cleveland  39:10  
Right. And all volunteer armed services. Yes.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  39:14  
Yep. So Stephanie, there's a last section that I want you to read. It's an intro to her last lives page. Why don't you read that for us?

Stephanie Cleveland  39:23  
Sure, absolutely. I'd be honored to. "Historians seem reluctant to record or publish the names and numbers of American women who gave their lives in service to their country. Whether from illness, injury, disease, enemy fire, plane crashes or the unknown they deserve to be remembered as having made the ultimate sacrifice. Let us all remember that women have served proudly since our nation began."

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  39:46  
Yeah. So Diana, how about you take the section on the Civil War?

Diana Echols  39:51  
Absolutely. "Some historical records verify the fact that over 60 women were either wounded or killed at various battles during the Civil War. Perhaps one of the most poignant stories about a woman in the Civil War is told in "Women in War 1866" by Frank Moore. In 1863, at age 19, a woman known only as Emily ran away from home and joined the drum corps of a Michigan regiment. The regiment was sent to Tennessee and during the struggle for Chattanooga, (I always have trouble with this word) a minie ball, pierced the side of a young soldier. The wound was fatal and her sex was disclosed. At first, she refused to disclose her real name, but as she lay dying, she consented to dictate a telegram to her father in Brooklyn. Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to deliver my country, but the fates would not have it so. I am content to die. Pray, forgive me. Emily."

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  40:53  
Wow. Powerful. I know. That's powerful, but I don't even know, I mean, the desire to serve was so strong, so strong in these women. I mean, they knew what the consequences were, for naught. So according to Wikipedia, a minie ball is a kind of bullet that was designed for maximum destruction. If a minie ball struck a bone, it usually shattered the bone. The damage of to the bones and resulting compound fractures were usually severe enough to necessitate amputation, which back in the 1860s, you don't want to tolerate that. One hit on a major blood vessel could also have serious and often lethal consequences. So, Marsha, I'm gonna let you wrap us up on this section of Captain Barb Wilson's information on her site.

Marsha Clark  41:49  
Absolutely. So this is the quote from one of her pages. "If she volunteers to defend this nation's rights, then the nation should defend her right to volunteer for any military assignment." Captain Barbara Ann Wilson. And she was born in 1931 in Pennsylvania, here in the U.S. She died on November 11, in 2012 at the age of 81 in St. Augustine, Florida, and she is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. And, you know, even that, as a woman being allowed in, has been a big deal over the years.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  42:33  
Absolutely. Well, now we know why the website hasn't been updated since 2010. She kept it up almost to the very end of her life in 2012. And she passed one year before the milestone announcement lifting that ban on women in combat and, you know, her quote, again, "If she volunteers to defend this nation's rights, then this nation should defend her right to volunteer for any military assignment." I mean, here, here's  to that!  I was really inspired by Captain Barb's page. And so I thought it might be nice to end today's episode with each of us giving a shout out to the women who have inspired us to take risks, to reach for our dreams, to serve others and to what it was your mom said, Stephanie, to be adventurous. I love that. And there's only one rule. It can't be anyone on this podcast or sitting in this room. So I'll let you all have a quick minute to share your shout out and who you want to say that you admire.

Stephanie Cleveland  43:35  
Okay, so I'll jump in. You know, there's so many strong women that I admire. You know, Justice Sotomayor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Wilma Mankiller, who was the first principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, German Chancellor Angela Markel, but since today is about service and sacrifice, I think I'm gonna highlight Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was the first Asian American to represent Illinois Congress, first woman with a disability elected to Congress. She's retired lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, who lost both legs following a helicopter attack in the Iraqi war. She speaks her conscience. In fact, she once said in an interview that she's always asked to hide her disability in photos. But she says I quote, "I say no. I earned this wheelchair. It's no different from a metal I wear on my chest." I think it's important to have role models like Senator Duckworth who show strong women demonstrating leadership.

Marsha Clark  44:28  
I just want to say that is leadership.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:30  
Yes. (Absolutely.) Yeah, and Diana, I don't know if you want to use your Amelia Earhart cohort for your shout out, but

Diana Echols  44:39  
I do. But before I do, I also want to just add in, and I'm sure that Captain Barb is highlighted here, but just outside of the gates of Arlington National Cemetery is a Women in Service to America Memorial. And if you go to Arlington, go there and you'll see many women who inspire. I also do want to shout out too. You know, when I started my Power of Self journey 22 years ago, I had to take a pause there, Marsha, you wouldn't know what knowing me, because I'm fairly extroverted, and I'm fairly easy to get involved in a conversation. But I had a lot of less than feelings. And that cohort helped me get over that. So I want to just Carla Barber, Mona Bailey, memory eternal, we just lost her, Carolyn Hess, Gaynelle Hanger, and the others too many to name in that class helped me see that I am not less than. I am them, we are equal. And we all bring our unique and talented gifts. And they inspired me so much and continue to inspire me to this day.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  45:46  
Well, thank you, Diana. And thank you, Stephanie, for such a great episode today, sharing your stories, your lessons learned and giving us all a sense of what it means to serve our country at a level that many of us have never experienced. And Marsha, what a powerful opportunity to see and appreciate Memorial Day, through a woman's lens.

Marsha Clark  46:06  
Yes, yes. And thank you, Wendi, as always, for taking us on this journey and sharing all the educational material, as well as the remembrance and recognition for these amazing women. And also to you, Diana, and Stephanie, thank you for joining us today and, you know, being willing to share your own stories and the depth and breadth of those stories and the everlasting aspects of those stories. I hope it is an inspiration as well as insightful to our listeners to see this three day weekend with new appreciation for all the people who have served and for the extra energy which is often required of women to move into those, you know, unfamiliar and previously unknown spaces. And so I just would say that to all of our listeners, as well, thank you, for those of you who have served in whatever capacity with defense contractors and all of those kinds of things. So as we close this today, I just want to say to you, thank you, and if there's anything that we can ever do to support any one of our listeners, to any of you in ways that really do create a world that values women and girls and that are supportive of one another. I mean, whether it's your you know, Stephanie, you were saying your mother, the absence of her grandchild for a while and all those kinds of things, but we also know we need other women in our village, in our communities to support us in moments of great urgency. And, as always, "Here's to women supporting women!"

Transcribed by

bottom of page