By Lucy Del Gaudio, US Army Veteran – Veteran Advocate
2020 has been a hell of a year.
A nation of vitriol has reared its ugly head and emotions have been all over the place. We have been witness to one of the world’s deadliest pandemics, a culture filled with social injustices and an election like no other. And in military culture, we witnessed the death of one of our own, on base at the hand one of our own.
Specialist Vanessa Guillen was reported missing on April 23. In June, her remains were found near the Leon River in Bell County, Texas. On July 2, the Army said she had been killed by another soldier, Specialist Aaron Robinson, who killed himself with a pistol as the police approached him, officials said.
As the #MeToo movement became grounded with stories of women in Hollywood, the news media outlets and other industries, women in the military remained somewhat silent.
Then the death of our sister came and her death attracted the attention of the nation — veterans, active-duty service members, and allies alike. Our time came, and like a charging bull, we made our voices heard.
An extraordinary group of women veterans and allies got together to make change. Harassment and assault is not new in the military. It just wasn’t addressed and given the attention it so deserved. In 1992, women like Diana Danis, testified about the Tailhook events. In 1992, I was assaulted. In 2020, I was able to share my story, and give SPC Vanessa Guillen a voice by testifying in front of the Military Personnel Committee with Melissa Bryant by my side and Lindsay Church serving as one hell of an aide.
A grassroots women veteran movement moved like NINJAS. A petition that started the weekend of July 4th received over 4000+ signatures in a few days. On July 21st, we held a press conference at the Triangle in Congress asking for a congressional hearing and changes in the way reporting and investigating takes place within the Military and that afternoon, a group of women and gender diverse veterans seeking justice for Vanessa and systemic change for survivors rallied in front of the WHITE HOUSE. We testified. On September 16th, women veterans from across the country witnessed the introduction of the The I AM VANESSA GUILLEN ACT of 2020. Now, we patiently waited and hopefully see the 117th Congress pass it into law.
This Veterans Day, I want to THANK all the wonderful veterans in my life. Those who supported me, but more so gave me the strength to find my voice. Women veterans like Melissa Bryant, Lindsay Church, Pamela Heal, Erin Kirk-Cuomo, Stephanie Gattas, Stephanie Merlo, Amber Davila, Andrea Goldstein and Kristin Rouse. Giants in the veteran advocacy space, they changed my life. But it will be remiss of me not to say THANK YOU to the New Jersey Veteran Space that has always allowed me to step on my soapbox and speak my mind.
Remember those women veterans who have made change like Mikie Sherrill, Sue Fulton, Harriet Tugman, Debra Sampson, Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver. They paved a way for many but the names I listed above, remember those names. They are part of a long list of gamechargers that are making change by starting GOOD TROUBLE.
Lucy C. Del Gaudio
US Army Veteran, Veteran Advocate/Activist
Culture and Engagement Specialist
Special Projects Program Manager – Minority Veterans
Co-Chair, NJ SOS Veterans Stakeholders – Women’s Subcommittee