Out of the 60,000 military veterans who reside in Prince George’s County, slightly more than 10,000 are women.
One of those women, La’Shanda Holmes, made history in 2010 as the first African American female helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard.
Holmes joined nine other female veterans Tuesday at a ceremony proclaiming the county’s first-ever Women Veterans Week from March 21-25, which also coincides with Women’s History Month.
Prince George’s accounts for the largest population of veterans in the state of Maryland.
“With this being the first-ever in P.G. County, it’s especially important … and to have the county executive honor us really means a lot,” said Holmes, a native of Fayetteville, North Carolina, who resides at National Harbor and works as a Coast Guard liaison to the U.S. Senate.
Along with her fiancé, Marvin Hawkins, who also served in the Coast Guard for 21 years, Holmes shared the moment with her mentor, Penny Collins.
Collins joined the Coast Guard in 1973 and retired in 2007. It’s the only military branch that’s part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and not within the federal Department of Defense.
“Young women who are coming up through high school or college can see someone like La’Shanda who not only served her country, but is doing other things,” Collins said. “The Coast Guard is a well-kept secret.”
In addition to honoring women who served in the military, the announcement highlighted an exhibit coming to Oxon Hill Library on April 13 called the “Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen.” Two similar exhibits will be featured at two other library branches in Laurel and Largo starting in May.
The “Color of Freedom” exhibit, which opened last year at the Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, focuses on women of color who served in the military. The exhibit features more than 200 pictures, memorabilia and oral recordings of women who served in or alongside the military branches of the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Holmes’ name has been noted in the exhibit with others such as Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) and former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who became the first combat veterans sworn into Congress in 2013.
The Prince George’s Memorial Library System’s Workforce and Community Development Team Digital collaborated with the Military Women’s Memorial to bring the exhibit to the county.
Lisa Williams, chairwoman of the county’s Commission for Veterans, served in the Navy for four years from 1988 to 1992. As she glanced around the Sojourner Truth room inside the library, she summarized what she saw.
“I see bad women, brave, valiant, strong, feminine, attractive, all of those things that tend to make people say I don’t see you as a veteran,” said Williams, who lives in Hyattsville. “A veteran can look like any one of us. It’s important for women to know that if they signed up for active duty, or if they did reserves and had more than six months of service, they are veterans. They served their country and should be recognized for their service.”
James Dula, a 30-year veteran in the Air Force, called this week’s honor “fantastic.”
As veteran affairs officer for the county, he said the honor allows women to be recognized “who raised their right hand to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic. This is a great time to be a veteran in Prince George’s County.”
Meanwhile, Maryland lawmakers are proposing to create a commission to study a memorial dedicated to women veterans.
A bill received unanimous approval in the House of Delegates and will be reviewed in the Senate during a public hearing Thursday. If approved before the legislative session ends on April 11, a preliminary report would be submitted to the governor and General Assembly by Feb. 1 and a final report by September 2023.