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Women are lauded as longtime veterans
County designates '10 as year of recognition

Sandi Williams, 51, was proud to serve her country. Plus her time in the Army allowed her to travel to many different places -- to South Korea for a year, Germany for three and then Fort Hood, Texas.

Doris Cummings-Ford, 76, was the third black woman to graduate from the Army's intelligence school -- then in Maryland -- in the 1960s. She then did undercover military intelligence work, she said.

Helen Jacob, 92, an Army veteran who served in World War II, still volunteers at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Buffalo. Ask her in which military branch she served, and the vet who stands 4-feet-10 1/2 will quip, "Is there any other one?"

Williams, Cummings-Ford and Jacob are among the 4,500 female veterans living in Erie County. From serving as caregivers during the American Revolution and the Civil War to fighting in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the role of women in the military was highlighted Tuesday as 2010 was named "Year of the Female Veteran" in Erie County.

Throughout the year, stories on female veterans will appear in local newsletters and community newspapers. Also, the county is organizing what will be the first female Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the county, perhaps the nation, officials said. And a women's advisory board is being developed for women to advise about legislative issues important to female veterans.

Tuesday's event, held in the museum at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, marked a milestone for the women in attendance who have served in the military.

"We are often overlooked," Williams said. "We have to remember women are vets, too."

The idea to honor the women came from Patrick W. Welch, county director of veterans services, who noted that women have had a tremendous impact in the armed forces since the Revolutionary War and that it is time to recognize them.

A great part of the inspiration for the idea came from Jacob, according to Welch, who said, "She is an inspiration not only to fellow veterans but to everyone who knows her."

Jacob had two brothers who were drafted in World War II. At first, joining the military was not even an option for her. At the time, she said, she was working and having a good time. "I went to work during the day and then out to party afterward," she said.

That changed after a while when Jacob began asking herself some tough questions. She began feeling as if she was wasting her life.

"I thought to myself, 'What am I doing?' " Jacob said. "After a while, I thought this isn't for me."

Jacob joined the Army as a nurse and was stationed in France. "I just felt as though I should join," she said. "It was the most wonderful experience. I never, never, never regretted what I did."

Cummings-Ford was the first woman to work in undercover military intelligence in New York, she said. After leaving the Army in 1975, she joined the Air Force Reserve.

The proclamation for "Year of the Female Veteran" was made by County Executive Chris Collins and Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams, D-Buffalo, herself an Army reservist.

"These women have made tremendous sacrifices to ensure our nation's freedom and our way of life," Collins said.

"In more than 20 years in the Reserve, I have served alongside many outstanding women who go above and beyond in their duties," Miller-Williams said. "Erie County has a number of outstanding women who make this sacrifice to serve both their community and their country."


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