This Veterans Day, like many, conjures up images of soldiers laying down their life for their country, of core values like honor, courage and commitment, of old men that relive their time at war fondly, but with a mist in their eyes as they tell the stories of those who didn’t come home.
For many, it does not conjure up images of women, dressed in the military uniforms that included skirts, with make-up on. But for Rear Admiral Marianne B. “Mimi” Drew, USN, Ret., who started her Naval career in 1967, when doors were just opening to women, that is the image one would see.
“No one generally sees themself as a pioneer,” said Drew. “Even if they are. Because of the timing, I was certainly on the cusp of a lot of changes so in that respect....”
For 38 years, she worked in operational military environment serving in an aviation squadron, the U.S. Senate, JUSMAG Thailand, Military Sealift Command, and the office of the Naval Inspector General, among others. She was named the first line female Rear Admiral in the Naval Reserve.
A seventh-generation military officer, she actually never thought she would go into the service. She said she had plans to go into journalism and to be a copywriter and work in advertising. While in college she joined an auxiliary group to the Naval ROTC and they put on parties, ran campaigns and did support work. A WAVES recruiter came to speak at campus and she decided to go through officer candidate school.
Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, as they were known, were a separate portion in the Navy from men. Each of the armed services had their own separate portion for women, explained Drew, and that shift in the organizations in one of the biggest changes she has seen over the years.
She said the recruiter had a “try before you buy” program where she got to try out officer candidate school between her junior and senior year in college.
“I thought, this is great, I’ll spend the summer in Rhode Island and I don’t really have to join the navy, but I loved it.”
She went back to college after that summer, but she said it really struck a cord with her and she spent her senior year waiting until she could go back.
“I had to sign on for two years, and when you are 19 that’s forever, but I signed on the dotted line and didn’t leave for 38 years!”
Things have definitely changed since Drew started her Naval career. When she was in college, she said women recruited women. And although her father and grandfathers before her were military men, she didn’t really have a female role model she looked up to in the service.
In addition to women not being segregated out to their own portion of the armed forces, such as with WAVES, Drew said the removal of the combat exclusion was one of the biggest changes too, opening up that women could be pilots that served in combat on aircraft and ships etc.
And of course, the numbers of women in the armed forces changed after the law that said only one percent of the military could be women, and only 10 percent of the one percent could be officers, was changed.
According to Women Veterans by the Numbers, written in 2009 by Lisa Foster and Scott Vince for the California Research Bureau, women serve throughout the world in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
They represent over 14 percent of the active duty force, 17.5 percent of the National Guard and Reserve Forces, and 20 percent of new military recruits.
And “in spite of their long history of military service, women were not asked if they had ever served in the U.S. Armed Forces until the 1980 Census; 1.2 million answeredthat they had.” They wrote [in 2009] that there are now over 1.8 million women veterans nationwide and women veterans represent 7.5 percent of the total U.S. veteran population of 23.4 million.
So, while average Joe might not picture a woman when they celebrate Veterans Day, times have changed. Veterans come in all shapes and sizes, colors and genders and generations, and from all backgrounds.
Fast forward to 2012 and Admiral Drew and her husband Phil, Brigadier Gen. Phil Drew, USAF, Ret., have a military family. Their daughter, Campbel,l served in the U.S.A.F. and is married to Major Sam Kraemer, U.S.A.F. with three children; and son, Captain P.C. Drew, U.S.M.C. ,and his wife Lisa have two children.
In addition to her Naval Reserve assignments during the first Gulf War, Admiral Drew had a political appointment in the President George H, W. Bush administration. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Force Support and Families, she developed and implemented public policy for Navy and Marine Corps quality of life programs — including medical support and military housing.
After retiring, Admiral Drew has kept serving and leading. She worked to raise money for the new South Coastal Library, she is a former president of the Lord Baltimore Women’s Club and is a board member of the Air Warrior Courage Foundation that supports military air crew members and wounded warriors through emergency support, college scholarships and other support not covered by the federal government, and is a board member of the Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation.
The need to serve and the love of country is something that is the duty of each generation to pass on to the next, said Admiral Drew. And it is not something only done in times war.
“Who are the first people to arrive in times of natural disaster, like Hurricane Sandy? The military,” she said. “In their trucks, aircraft and ships they bring food blankets, electricity, engineers to clear rubble and to rebuild. And they bring loving arms and hearts — that’s service!”
“And in combat zones in off duty hours our service members build orphanages, hospitals and houses. They tell stories of the need in emails home to their families who mobilize whole communities to send boxes and boxes of cookies and candy and clothes and the stuff of life — for people miles away whom they don’t even know — that’s service!”
Drew, who also is a charter member of the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial at the entrance of the Arlington National Cemetery, asked that women veterans or families of women veterans who have not registered to go to womensmemorial.org or call (800) 222-2294 to get information on how to register.
“This is the only major national memorial honoring the more than two million women who have served in the defense of our nation since its beginning more than 230 years ago. Please make sure the story of women serving in defense of our nation is recorded and never forgotten.”