© 2022 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Donate Today Banner

VFW adheres to the needs of female veterans

Ashley Hassett

It’s a Veteran of Foreign Wars post that specifically caters to the needs of female veterans. The Dorothy Kubik-Katherine Galloway V.F.W post 12097 will celebrate its third year of existence this summer.

The members of VFW Post 12097’s motto is “Real women wear combat boots.” That sounds like an odd battle cry for a veterans group whose name evokes grizzled old men swapping war stories in a dark and smoky beer hall. But this isn’t your grandfather’s VFW. The membership of the post is overwhelmingly female.  Of the 49 members, only 9 are men, most of whom are husbands of the female vets.

VFW Post 12097 Commander Beth Maddigan says after three years, the group still doesn’t have an official building to call home.

Maddigan says the crew mostly meets at a nearby C.V. veteran’s hall, but their favorite meeting places would likely puzzle their more traditional VFW brothers.

“I like to kind of in the summer get outside and do things, like I have a cottage at sunset bay we’ll meet there in July. For the day or the week it’s up to everybody. Last year we met and had a meeting on the U.S.S. Little Rock during Navy week. We met at somebody’s campground at Darien Lake state park,” said Maddigan.

But Post 12097 is more than a place for female veterans to socialize and reminisce.  The group also works on issues like helping returning vets find jobs and assimilate back into society.  New York State’s V.F.W commander James Durkin says the group has even helped shape the way V.A. hospitals provide for women.

“A lot of that has changed with the Veteran’s Administration recognizing the role of women that they need special care that’s different from men. They have different diseases, different medical issues. That’s what we want the women to focus on for the future women veterans that need these services to ensure that they’re there when it comes time for them to need them,” said Durkin.

Female vets had always been relegated to the group’s Women’s Auxiliary, but in the 1970‘s, the VFW began formally admitting women. Maddigan, an Army reservist who served in Operation Desert Storm, says even years after that policy change, she and many women faced resistance from some VFW members.

“When I went to join the V.F.W. post I originally joined, the old man behind the bar kept handing me an application for the ladies auxiliary. I was like no I don’t want that, I said want to join the post. He said “hun” you’ll be happier in the ladies auxiliary. I said what did you just call me? Hun… Well Dad, I want to join the post. He said do you have your discharge papers. You mean this my DD214 and he’s like oh yeah. So he handed me an application. Generally if somebody applies to the VFW they’ll look over the application and sign it, there’s not really a vote whether you get in. They voted on me, they actually took a vote on me and there were a few people who said nay. I didn’t find that out for like a year and I was like what did you think I was going to do walk in and say okay now were gonna paint everything pink,” said Maddigan.

In January, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the military would lift the ban on women serving in combat roles. Maddigan greeted that news with a shrug.

“We were always told if you get attacked, go grab your weapons. Oh no you don’t understand I’m a women so I shouldn’t be, no, no let all the guys. You don’t know where the front’s going to be, you don’t know where combat is going to break out,” said Maddigan.

Durkin explains that in previous wars combat lines were drawn, but in wars today they are not.

“You’ve got insurgents who are behind the lines causing as much death and destruction as much as the ones up on the frontline. You don’t know who the enemy is, the enemy could be anywhere,” said Durkin.

Senior vice commander of the Leonard VFW post 6251 in Cheektowaga, Walter Dember said his post-mates are split on whether women should be allowed in frontline combat.

“I feel that it could cause a distraction and it would be awful hard for a person to see, especially a veteran to see a woman get injured. I think that’s the biggest worry, but I feel women are tough enough to take care of themselves and do what they do. So I would say that is strictly up to them,” said Dember.

VFW Post 12097 member, Matejka Baumgardner, served as a Marine Corps Sergeant in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She says if a woman is running at you in full combat gear and outshooting most of the men around her, she’s no longer a distraction.

“You don’t have time to put on make-up while you’re in combat or if there’s a war. You don’t have time to go sun tanning in 138 degrees in Kuwait. You’re high alert. Some of the stuff that we do as a woman is an additive charm. Like, I brought in my pink purse today, I like it, I like the color that it shows, but would I use that on the front-line? Would I take that in the military service with me knowing that I’m going to be deployed? No!” said Baumgardner.

Baumgardner said she’s is looking forward to the future for female veterans.

“It makes it a whole lot easier to state your ideas, state your opinions for the future and come back and say okay maybe from your era, the Vietnam era women were treated like this, from OIF they were treated like this, to Desert storm they were treated like this. What can we do differently? What information did I not get when I got out that we can possibly change and try to get into some implementation method now to meet that need?”

Maddigan has been approached by female veterans across the country who want to start a VFW post. Her advice is:  

“You had the guts to join the military now join a V.F.W. post. The V.F.W as a whole needs fresh ideas, new blood,” said Maddigan.