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Celebrating women of character, courage, commitment

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Historically, the achievements of women and the contributions they have made to society have gone largely unrecorded. In fact, most of their work and efforts have been discounted.

These role models, along with countless others, demonstrate the importance of recognizing the significance of Women's History Month. That is primarily why the theme this year is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.

The military is no exception, filled with many women who have stories of hardship, challenge and triumph in an effort to break boundaries.

In 2004, Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard, was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and one of the first women in U.S. Army history to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

She was awarded a Purple Heart for being shot down in her helicopter resulting in the loss of both legs, and partial use of her arm.

While recovering, she became an advocate for her fellow soldiers, testifying before Congress about caring for our veterans and wounded warriors. Duckworth became director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs in 2006, where she developed a tax credit for employers who hired veterans, established a crisis hotline and worked to improve veterans' access to housing and healthcare.

In 2009 she was appointed assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs where she led an initiative to end homelessness among veterans, and created the Office of Online Communications.

Another leader and role model for the modern age is Roxcy Bolton.

She was motivated to action by the disparity between what women were capable of accomplishing and the fact that, "all the men were making the decisions." Bolton joined the National Organization for Women soon after it was founded in 1966.

She helped establish Commissions on the Status of Women in state and county governments, fought for more women in policy-making positions, pushed for creation of the Women's Institute at Florida Atlantic University, and led a sit-in at the University of Miami to protest the unequal treatment of female students and faculty.

Bolton fought for laws protecting rape victims, and for legislation to more efficiently prosecute rape crimes.

Another noteworthy individual is Jaida Im. She founded Freedom House, the first residential shelter for adult female survivors of human trafficking, in northern California in 2010.

Shocked to learn that trafficking was taking place in her own community and that there was no local shelter to meet the specific needs of trafficking victims, she felt compelled to make a difference.

In August 2010, after a great deal of fundraising, her organization was able to purchase and open a shelter house named The Monarch.

Today, the Monarch serves as a home to eight women and offers resources to non-resident trafficking victims. In just over three years, Freedom House has served more than 100 women. In fall 2013, Freedom House opened The Nest. The Nest is one of the very few shelters in the U.S. dedicated to serving young trafficking victims.

We should encourage each other to take this month to reflect on numerous women who have contributed to our society, our nation and our service.

Maybe you have a mother, wife, sister or daughter you respect and admire for their achievements. Perhaps a strong supervisor, dedicated wingman or supportive commander comes to mind. Whoever those women are, understand the journey they traveled may not have been easy, but it was possible in our nation of freedom.