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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

Former soldier drives cross country to bring attention to women veteran’s issues

Former soldier drives cross country to bring attention to women veteran’s issues

Sara Escobar

Evening Star

When you hear the resiliency and passion that courses throughout 60-year-old Debbie Kilpatrick, it’s made abundantly clear that she has a story to tell, and it’s certainly one worth hearing. After working for nearly 33 years as a Directorate of Public Works in Fort Lee, Virginia, she’s making the ultimate month-long road trip across the country to not only celebrate her retirement and new-found freedom, but to make a statement about the struggle that woman face while being in the military, and what can happen after. Her pitch is simple: women are veterans, too.

Courtesy Photo Debbie Kilpatrick car reads “service, honor and courage” on the front, with the message “women are veterans too” on the driver side door.

Courtesy Photo
Debbie Kilpatrick car reads “service, honor and courage” on the front, with the message “women are veterans too” on the driver side door.

When the Evening Star contacted Kilpatrick, she was in Gage, New Mexico. “I’m amazed at the reaction I’ve gotten so far,” she says, “I’ve talked with many people—veterans and civilians a like, and they’re getting an experience they’ve never had before. My biggest mission here is to shed light on the fact that health care for veterans is not adequate and we need to do better. We, as women, have made great strides. The ability to become rangers and even join the infantry—that just wasn’t possible when I was in. I still feel a part of something bigger; none of us are alone in these efforts. I’m proud to have served alongside the men and women who believe in this great country.”

Kilpatrick’s story begins when she joined the Woman’s Army Corps, or WAC, in 1975. “I was a child who wanted to see the world,” she said in a previous interview. “I wanted to do more than have children.” Kilpatrick was just 19-years-old when she enlisted, and though she faced disapproval from her family, she pursued her goals boldly and courageously.

After five months as a WAC at Fort Jackson, North Carolina, she was notified that she would undergo the same Basic Training as males would; Kilpatrick would go on to be one of the first 500 women to join the ranks among their male counterparts upon graduation at Fort McClellan, Alabama. “Many of us are just now realizing how important that day was,” she says, “That day wasn’t just a regular day in the army.” When Kilpatrick’s class finished basic training in March 1976, only 323 of the 500 received certificates of completion.

Despite harassment and constant mistreatment from fellow officers, Kilpatrick adapted and persevered, working as a nuclear weapons storage and handling specialist. Kilpatrick’s endurance would be tested to the extreme one night during guard duty overseas in Okinawa, when she was sexually assaulted. Her case would never see the courtroom, however, and she eventually transferred to Fort Stewart, Georgia, before ending her military service in 1979. Kilpatrick went on to work for numerous government agencies, and began her employment in Public Works in 2005. She retired as the program manager for the National Environmental Policy Act section in March of 2017.

Despite facing adversity, Kilpatrick is proud to have served along the men and women of the Army. That pride is evident when you speak to Kilpatrick, or see her driving in her car that’s been embellished in colorful vinyl to show support of veterans and those who still serve.

Kilpatrick was able to speak at a SHARP—the Sexual Harassment/Assault Program—in Ft. Lee where she publically discussed the impact of her assault that took place over 40 years ago. She is working to publish a book outlining the events of her life, something she describes as “a life with no rules”. Kilpatrick has also been invited to speak at the Women’s Veteran Gathering in Colorado in September, and wants to eventually settle in Vancouver, Washington.

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