VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System honored Women Veterans with a photo exhibit of black and white portraits featuring 29 Women Veterans from various communities served by the Lone Star State’s southern most VA health care system.
“Women Veterans represent an enduring legacy of leadership, service, and sacrifice,” said Joe A. Perez, director of VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System. “These types of special projects and events are our way of honoring the sacrifices and contributions made to our country by women Veterans from all generations past and present.”
The exhibit is part of the VA’s national observance campaign for this year’s Women History Month. It officially opened to visitors after the system hosted a Women’s History Month ceremony, which took place on March 2. The exhibit is open to the public and is located on the third floor of the VA Health Care Center at Harlingen, Texas.
“We did not just to take regular photos and put them up in some ordinary picture frames,” said Reynaldo Leal, the health care system’s public affairs officer and photographer who took the portraits.
“Our Veterans deserve our best effort, therefore our team put a lot of thought behind this.”
Leal explained the portraits were printed in black and white to provide a greater dramatic effect and a sense of uniformity which is prevalent in military communities. The portraits were hung around glass walls in the third floor to take advantage of the various angles of brilliant sunlight that shines throughout the room. In addition to the sunlight, the natural transparent quality of the glass walls gives visitors the impression that the portraits are floating or suspended in midair.
Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Angela Burton gazes up to her portrait at the VA Health Care Center at Harlingen, Texas.
The extra effort appears to have worked according to the feedback by some of the exhibit’s guests.
“This looks amazing,” Dr. Shauna S. Kincheloe-Zaren, the chief of staff at the facility. “I almost forgot I was in medical facility and thought I had walked into art gallery.”
Plans for the special portrait project began as early as December 2017, and the local women Veterans were photographed earlier this year during the month of February. Approximately 600 visitors have already viewed the women Veteran portraits in person and more than 7,000 views have been registered on social media.
Among those that viewed the exhibit were family and friends of the Veterans photographed. For the mother of Navy Veteran Mindy M. Caballero, seeing the photograph of her daughter on display was a proud and satisfying experience.
“I walked out of the elevator and saw my daughter’s portrait and thought to myself how awesome,” said Maria Claudio Martinez. “I was overwhelmed with emotion. I respect the VA even more for taking the time and energy to recognize these women. It makes me feel proud as an American, as a women and as mother.”
Maria Claudio Martinez places her hand over her heart as she gazes up at the portrait of her daughter Navy Veteran Mindy M. Caballero.
Portraits were accompanied with signs with details about each of the female Veteran’s military service and personal quotes.
While many of the signs provided basic information about the Veteran photographed, others saw it as an opportunity to express what having served their country means to them.
“Serving my country, as a Marine, and soldier, was one of the greatest privileges I’ve ever had,” said Erika Leon Morris. “Contrary to the popular perception, the Marine Corps does not break Marines down; rather it breaks away all that hinders us from growing and gives us unlimited potential. This is vital to a woman’s growth as many of us are taught since childhood, intentionally or not, that as females, we have limitations. The person that emerges from boot camp is a blank slate for success in all its forms, outfitted with the tools to overcome any challenge. Honor, courage, and commitment become our strongholds and see us through all of life’s obstacles and gives us a legacy of strength to pass on to younger generations of women.”
Leon Morris’s sentiments were echoed by other fellow Veterans like retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Yolanda Lozoya.
“Serving in the United States Marine Corps is a challenge not many can accomplish, and for women, it holds additional hardships. Even so, the Corps prepares us for these hardships and provides us with the tools necessary to overcome any obstacles we might encounter. During our service, women often forge strong bonds through shared experiences and successes. These bonds run deep and continue once our service is complete. To a Marine, Semper Fidelis is more than just a catchphrase; it is a way of life that demands a level of excellence in ourselves and others. In a world where limitations are often placed on women, I am grateful to the Corps for putting me through the fires of refinement and showing me all that I am capable of.”
Guests tour the photo exhibit on display on the third floor of the VA Health Care Center at Harlingen, Texas.