By T. Anthony BellNovember 8, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 13, 2013) --The first statue of a female Soldier on any U.S. Army installation was unveiled here Nov. 7.
The fiberglass figure, called Lt. FAWMA -- for Friends of the Army Women's Museum Association -- depicts today's modern female Soldier clad in a field uniform and carrying a standard weapon and other field gear. The unveiling took place at the entrance of the Army Women's Museum where roughly 300 people watched.
The guests included Brig. Gen. John E. O'Neil IV, the U.S. Army Quartermaster General and commandant, U.S. Army Quartermaster School; Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Sims, U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command CSM; and Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer L. Gray, the QM School regimental CSM.
The statue, bronze in color, and standing roughly 10-feet tall including its concrete platform, received an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd and emotional responses from many of the longtime supporters of the facility. They included retired Lt. Col. Pat Sigle, president of FAWMA, the statue's namesake and chief benefactor. She said the statue reflects the image of today's female warrior and symbolizes the next chapter in women's military history.
"We knew the moment they (the museum) came to us with this idea that it was something that we had to do," she said with moist eyes. "We had to show the younger generation that they mean something and that we're proud of them carrying on the great tradition of women in service."
The Lt. FAWMA concept is largely the brainchild of AWM technician and retired Soldier Ron Bingham, who said a modern update was needed to complement the facility's Pallas Athena, a statue of the ancient goddess of war, which greets visitors at the facility's front entrance.
"She is the foundation of our museum," he said, "but we wanted to get the modern story. We have lots on World War II and the 1950s and '60s, but we don't have as much on the present and we wanted something to attract young Soldiers."
Toward that end, Lt. FAWMA wears the combat patch of the 1st Infantry Division, a Fort Riley, Kan.-based unit that frequently deployed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also wears the 94th Training Division patch that pays tribute to the nation's reserve components.
Female Soldiers had a hand in Lt. FAWMA's development from start to finish. Bingham said an image of his wife, retired Master Sgt. Debra Bingham, taken during the first Gulf war served as an inspiration. Retired Sgt. 1st Class Sherry Williams modeled the equipment Lt. FAWMA carries, and Sgt. 1st Class Naomi Rankin's hair and bun were used to sculpt Lt. FAWMA's hairstyle.
Additionally, retired Col. German Velez and Sgt. Heather Norris of Fort Hamilton, N.Y, performed part of the final on-site inspections at the Kodiak Inc., studios of Brooklyn, N.Y. where it was created.
Brig. Gen. Janice M. Haigler said the statue is long overdue.
"Honestly, it's about time, and I appreciate the symbolism (of the statue)," said the deputy commanding general, 311th Signal Command located at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. "They've tied the past and present and all three components. It is pretty neat. Obviously, there was a lot of thought put into it."
Sgt. 1st Class Carlandra Moss thought so as well. The guest speaker said during her remarks the statue inspired her to think of two qualities -- "relevance and value-added" -- that encourages Soldiers to enhance their individual abilities.
"As I stand here thinking about those two qualities, the impact of this statue is breathtaking," said the executive assistant to Sims. "It reminds me of the great female leaders of whose shoulders I stand upon. "
Following the unveiling ceremony, many of the well-wishers hugged and congratulated each other and posed and snapped pictures with the statue. They included a mix of active duty and retired Soldiers, male and female military members and young and old. Col. Norma Bradford, for one, said the ceremony was "awesome" and thought the statue accurately captures the struggle of women Soldiers.
"I haven't inspected every inch of it," said the Soldier assigned to the QM School's Reserve Component Affairs Office, "but it looks like it adequately depicts everything we've been through."
Dr. Francoise Bonnell, AWM director, said although she saw the statue prior to the unveiling, she saw it in different light after she witnessed the crowd's admirable response.
"I now understand its true impact upon people," she said. "I knew it would have an impact just because I served myself for 22 years, and I know there are not any statues out there. I didn't realize how powerful it was to connect the generations. You have the WAC veterans and young and old Soldiers of today seeing her value. That's an impact I didn't anticipate."
Gray said the statue and the ceremony made it a memorable occasion
"It's not just a great day for our female warriors, it's a great day for our Army," he said. "We've recognized the contributions that our female Soldiers have continued to make to our great nation. That's what this is about today, and that's what makes this the best Army in the world. No other Army in the world shows this kind of gratitude for the female contribution."
The Army Women's Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. It is closed Sunday, Monday and on national holidays.