U of I event to honor first female Illinois National Guard member killed in combat in Iraq
The University of Illinois on Nov. 29 will honor Shawna Morrison, a student and the first female Illinois Army National Guard member killed in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The event, entitled “Women Veterans: Health, Community & Legacy,” will be held at the Urbana National Guard Armory and begin at 8:30 a.m.
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. A psychology major, Morrison was the first full-time Illinois student to die in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The event focuses on the needs and challenges women face upon entering the military, which is about 85% male, and then post-discharge. The challenges include dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder from combat experiences, as well as from military sexual trauma, said Dr. Jeni Hunniecutt, the visiting research specialist at the Chez Center and a veteran as well, also serving in the National Guard for six years.
“Among many issues, Military Sexual Trauma is a common challenge for many women who serve,” Hunniecutt said. “There’s research that shows that military sexual trauma is a predicator for PTSD more so than combat experience. One-in-three women generally experience military sexual trauma, and that encompasses anything from unwanted sexual comments all the way to direct sexual assaults. The (percentage) of sexual harassment (in the military) is 72 percent to 90 percent of women. It’s definitely an epidemic.”
But Hunniecutt wants to emphasize that the “Women Veterans” event is a celebration of women who serve, especially Morrison in this case.
Though the two both served in the National Guard, they did not know each other as Hunniecutt served in Virginia, while Morrison was based in Paris, Ill. Hunniecutt came to know of Morrison from Cheryl Walker, who served with Morrison in the 1544th and who in April was appointed as the first female commander of the American Legion's 19th District, which serves Champaign-Urbana.
“Cheryl came to us probably 3 to 4 months ago, wanting to start a chapter here on campus and do something in honor of Shawna,” Hunniecutt said. “We wanted (Women Veterans) to be a women-focused event and wanted to have a space in it to talk about legacy, and Shawna’s name came up. Shawna was a student here during the initial invasion in Iraq and there was a lot of discourse about women in combat at that time. The Women in Combat Exclusion Policy was lifted in 2016, but there was a lot of talk that women were already in combat, even if they were not in direct combat jobs, just because of the nature of fighting. You can have a job as a cook or something in transportation and still be in combat. Shawna’s experience really exemplifies and shows that truth and that reality.”
Walker will be one of six speakers at the Nov. 29 event, which will be held at the Urbana National Guard Armory and is co-hosted and sponsored by the Chez Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education and Illinois Joining Forces.
For more information, visit http://www.ahs.illinois.edu/womenvetevent