Morrison memorial also serves as reminder of changing military
On a day when the University of Illinois community and military service members past and present remembered Sgt. Shawna Morrison, many speakers looked ahead to the changing makeup and culture of the military.
“Hopefully, in 5-10 years, we’ll be standing here talking about the success we had, rather than the path we’ve walked,” said Cheryl Hanley-Maxwell, dean of the College of Applied Health Sciences and one of the speakers at the Women Veterans: Health, Community & Legacy event held November 29 at the Urbana National Guard Armory.
The gathering was held in honor of Morrison, the first female Illinois Guard member killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and an Illinois student at the time of her death. Sgt. Morrison, 26, and another member of the 1544th Transportation Company, Spc. Charles Lamb, 23, were killed Sept. 5, 2004, in a mortar attack on their base near Baghdad.
The event was organized by Ingrid Wheeler, assistant director of the Chez Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education, and Jeni Hunniecutt, visiting research specialist at the Chez Center, and co-hosted and sponsored by the Chez Center and Illinois Joining Forces.
And while many of the guest speakers referenced Morrison and her service, several made it clear how much has changed for armed service members in the past decade, and particularly since 2016, when the Department of Defense lifted the Women in Combat Exclusion Policy.
“Women in the military now serve in a capacity I never expected,” said Capt. Christine Hurley, HHD commander and training officer for the 129th Regional Training Institute of the Illinois Army National Guard and a 24-year service veteran.
“This is an era of equality for women in the military,” Hurley said. “At some point, we won’t have a ‘first woman doing something.’ It’ll just be someone doing something.”
That change in attitude is vital because the influx of women is the fastest growing segment of the veteran population, said Robyn Gobin, assistant professor of Kinesiology & Community Health in the College of Applied Health Sciences.
And despite some shifts, women veterans still face enormous hurdles, both on active duty and upon transition to civilian life, Gobin said, adding that women are more than twice as likely as men to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and that 70 percent of women in the military said they were the victim of some form of military sexual trauma during their time of service.
“We need to increase the awareness of challenges women face and increase funding,” for veterans’ care, she said.