By Jan Lee Buxengard
The ninth annual military ball held on April 20 was a huge success with record attendance of 236, an increase of 13 from last year’s event. This year’s event honored women of the military, and guest speaker Michelle Miller of La Crescent had poignant words to share about her experience.
Miller retired from the Army in 2001 after spending half of her military career enlisted and the other half commissioned.
She is currently a family medicine physician’s assistant with the Gundersen Lutheran clinics in Harmony, Houston, La Crescent and Spring Grove.
Originally from La Crosse, Miller joined the Army the summer between her junior and senior years of high school at the age of 17.
Miller’s first three years of service were as a combat medic and later a practical nurse.
In 1990 she applied to the Army physician’s assistant program but had to attend Warrant Officer School prior to being allowed to start PA school. Miller was the distinguished honor graduate from WOC School in a class of 63, one of three females.
“Considering the official transition of women into combat MOSs is scheduled to take place on the 15th of May, women’s role in the military couldn’t have been a more appropriate theme for your military ball,” Miller stated in opening remarks.
“There is a lot of history in numbers and statistics, but before you can appreciate the true value of those numbers you have to be able to appreciate the sacrifices, determination, motivation and challenges it took to give those numbers faces,” Miller stated.
The best way for anyone to appreciate the impact women have had, and continue to have on the military mission, would be to be able to spend a day in their life while they were doing just that.
She has been deployed to the field many times as the only female in support of all-male combat arms battalions. There are no male and female bathrooms so you learn to use a tree, bush or berm. When you’re the only female where to sleep and shower are also questions people ask about. You all are equal, she pointed out, adding, “They are your right hand and you must have trust in them.”
“For women to succeed in the military you have to be able to exceed the standard. Recognition comes with being able to separate yourself from the whole.”
“In the military you learn quickly that nobody can take care of you better than you can take care of yourself. Considering a pay raise in the military is based on promotion – every day is a competition.”
Some statistics include 14.6 percent of the 1.4 million active duty service members are women. Of the 280,000 women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, more than 150 women have been killed and 800 wounded due to action. In 2009, 8 percent of veterans were female. That number is expected to rise 15 percent by 2035.
“I spent half of my career enlisted and the other commissioned. If I had it to do over I wouldn’t change a thing. Being able to appreciate the grass on both sides of the fence gave me a greater appreciation for the contribution that everyone makes.”
In conclusion she noted that Mary Walker was the first American woman to be a military doctor, a prisoner of war, a union spy and a Medal of Honor recipient. When she died alone at 87 wearing her Medal of Honor, the words she left us with were: “Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom.”
Other women of the military who attended include: Stacey Glaunert, Marine Corps and Army; Amanda England, Army; Josephine Strube, Army; Kay Swenson, Army; Anne Doering, Army; Michelle Miller, Army; June Sheets, Navy; Sharon Ropes, Navy; Teresa Ash, Army; Sharon Rohrer, Army; Vicky Sheldon Kline, Army; and Terese Housker, Navy.
Held at the Fest Building in Spring Grove, those attending came from a wide range of the tri-state area.
The Bell of Honor from Rochester was rung to honor those who have responded, served, protected, defended, sacrificed, suffered or died.
Presentation of colors was organized by John Geiwitz of Houston. Those in the color guard included riflemen Maynard LeFleur of Rushford and Jason Marquardt of Mabel; U.S. flag bearers Allen Buxengard of La Crescent and Cory Buxengard of Muskego, Wis., POW-MIA flag by Paul Wheaton of Houston and the service flags: Army – Randy Denstad of Caledonia, Marine – Earl Roberts of Mindoro, Wis., Navy – Todd James of Rushford, Coast Guard – Gary Germanson (Navy) of La Crosse, Wis., and Air Force – Brad Buege of Houston.
Emcee for the evening was Sharon Erickson Ropes, a registered nurse who served in the Navy Nurse Corps for five years. Gene Wilder of LeRoy and Paul Wheaton of Houston led the POW-MIA ceremony “Remember.” Tribute was paid to Sgt. Major Robert L. McCurdy, retired Marine from La Crescent, who passed away July 14, 2012, at the age of 82. While serving in the military he was a prisoner of war in Korea for 18 months.
Local Veterans Service Officers Rob Gross for Houston County and Jason Marquardt for Fillmore County spoke briefly. “We create a seamless transition when members of the military return from deployments. It’s very rewarding to help,” Gross said. “Often our job is filled with frustrations. We’re up against the system that is maybe shut down, lost funding or no funds remain.”
Marquardt announced that construction will begin in August or September to build a veterans cemetery in Fillmore County. During her tenure as senator, Sharon Ropes was instrumental in initiating the senate bill for the cemetery.
At the final salute ceremony, Richard Snow of Houston read the roll call honoring the 32 veterans of Houston County who answered their last call in the last calendar year.