Throughout the month of March, The Purple Heart Foundation wants to use Women’s History Month as way to educate the public about women who have served in the military and those that are serving in the military today. This week, The Purple Heart Foundation had an exclusive conversation with Purple Heart recipient Wendy Buckingham, a Major in the United States Air Force.
Purple Heart: Why did you pursue the USAF JAG Corp Reserves? And how did the Commissioned Officer Training shape your military career?
Maj. Buckingham: I had a full scholarship to college through the USAF ROTC Program. During ROTC, I decided I wanted to become a JAG officer and during my junior year of college, I submitted an application for an educational delay to attend law school and become a JAG. Through ROTC, I learned a tremendous amount about leadership and organizational development. I think ROTC also gave me a better understanding of “big” Air Force and how all of the different career fields work together.
Purple Heart: What kind of leadership lessons did you receive from your previous campaign in Baghdad, Iraq during 2009?
Maj. Buckingham: I think the biggest leadership lesson that I learned was to lead where you are planted. I was one of several attorneys on a joint task force, so I was not in a leadership role. There were issues and problems that we complained about as attorneys and paralegals and I think the biggest lesson that I learned was that I did not need to be in a defined leadership position to address those issues and problems. If I had an opportunity to work an issue and resolve it, I should do it and our team would be better for it.
Purple Heart: You served as the National Scholarship Committee Chairwoman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart. What attracted you to this role? And what is a memorable moment since you’ve become the chair?
Maj. Buckingham: I think education is extremely important because it empowers people and enables them to achieve greater goals and assist others. I loved the idea of becoming involved in the Scholarship Committee because of the possibility of assisting others in achieving their educational goals, and ultimately, their life goals – becoming a doctor, teacher, or civil servant. My favorite moments include the friendships that I have built with the other Committee Members and getting to know them and their stories by working on the Committee together.
I also love hearing and seeing the joy and gratitude scholarship recipients have when they find out that they have received a scholarship. Our Michael Murphy recipient last year, Master Sergeant (Ret.) Bryan “Big Lou” Louzensky is great example. He served for over 20 years in special operations and had numerous deployments overseas. It was wonderful to be able to recognize him and his family during our National Convention in Norfolk, VA, as he transitioned from his military career to a civilian career and to financially assist him after everything that he has done for our country.
Purple Heart: What do you believe were some of your accomplishments as the Director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Women Veterans Program?
Maj. Buckingham: As the first Director, I was given a clean slate and an opportunity to create a new program. My goal was to build a community within MOPH for our female veterans. I think my three biggest accomplishments were (1) creating an electronic newsletter designed for our female members with the tremendous assistance of the MOPH HQ staff; (2) teaming with Howard University’s annual fashion show as their charity of choice to recognize female veterans; and (3) providing outreach and support for female veterans in need through the incredible assistance of the local MOPH chapters.
Purple Heart: When you see other women who have been wounded in battle, what are some of the conversations with them like?
Maj. Buckingham: Women with Purple Hearts are a rare breed – there just are not that many of us, so it is always really special to me when I have the opportunity to meet another female Purple Heart recipient. MOPH, for example, has over 40,000 members, but only a little over 100 of those members are female! I love hearing the other women’s stories and I think my biggest takeaway from all of them is that we are all really tough. It is really rare to hear a female Purple Heart recipient complain about anything, regardless of what she has been through. I love seeing the strength and courage of the other women – it encourages me to become better and stronger.
Purple Heart: What more can be done to serve women veterans in this country?
Maj. Buckingham: I have been really impressed with the strides that the VA has taken in the past five to ten years to outreach to women veterans. Those efforts need to continue. I also think the VA and VSOs need to become more family orientated. Women veterans need to bond more with each other, but we are really busy! Female veterans are working full-time, going to school, and running households, which include cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
I think women veterans find it really hard to find “me” time or time with friends. VA’s that allow women to bring small children to their appointments or offer childcare during appointments help ensure our female veterans receive the care that they need with as little added stress as possible. Similarly, VSOs that plan family events or hold meetings at family-friendly venues are more likely to have more active female members.
I also think the narrative regarding female veterans in the media needs to change. There are women who have had a very negative experience in the military due to military sexual trauma or other issues. I would say, however, that there are even more women who are better off and more capable because of their military experience. I am proof of that and I wished the media paid more attention to the benefits of military service for women.
Purple Heart: What are some of you favorite experiences in your service with the United States Air Force?
Maj. Buckingham: My most treasured USAF experiences all involve working on a team with my fellow Airmen, mentoring junior officers and enlisted, and being mentored by senior officers and senior enlisted.
Purple Heart: What advice would you give to young women who are considering joining the military?
Maj. Buckingham: Go for it! Whether you are an officer or enlisted, you will learn tremendous life skills through military service, like discipline, selflessness, and leadership. Women have incredible opportunities to lead in the military and those skills will translate into success in the civilian sector. Whether you retire from the military or separate at the end of your initial commitment, you will be better off for joining and more capable in your future endeavors.
Purple Heart: During Women’s History Month we are honoring American Heroines, of which you are. Who was a role model for you during your service in the military?
Maj. Buckingham: I have been tremendously blessed to have at least a dozen female senior officers and senior enlisted members who have mentored me. From general career advice to guiding me through the difficult balancing act of maintaining a civilian career and reserve commitments to advice on being a mom in the military, other women have encouraged me to keep pursuing my military career and educated me about the leadership, job, and educational opportunities that I could hold as I continue to make rank. There are numerous women in the USAF and the JAG Corps who are Generals, Colonels, and Chief Master Sergeants. Based on their achievements and leadership, I know that there is no limit for what females can accomplish in the military and the value that we add.
Purple Heart: What do you make of how far women in the military have come?
Maj. Buckingham: Women clearly have come a tremendous way and now face almost no limitations in what jobs we can hold in the military. All too often though, I think many Americans mistakenly believe that females serving in the military is a “new” thing. In reality, women have been serving in the military since the Civil War when thousands of women volunteered to serve as nurses.
We have multiple female MOPH members who served as nurses in Vietnam and received Purple Hearts for wounds they received in action while protecting their patients. I am thankful for where we are today, but it definitely important to remember the efforts of all of the women who came before and paved the way for the future. One great reminder and way to learn to about their accomplishments is to visit the Women In Military Service For America Memorial at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.
The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to telling the stories of America’s heroes and heroines who have fought to keep the republic standing. The Purple Heart Foundation remains committed to assisting all veterans in all aspects of their lives. Nearly 90% of cash donations fund the National Service Officer Program, the Scholarship Program, service dog programs, and other recreational and rehabilitative programs. The Purple Heart Foundation acknowledges that the transition from battlefield to the home front can be a difficult one. It is the goal of The Purple Heart Foundation to make that transition as smooth as possible for all veterans.
The Purple Heart Foundation prides itself on being the only veteran service organization with an entire membership that was wounded in combat. You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for the United States of America by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.