VA’s Center for Women Veterans profiles a different woman Veteran author as part of their Women Veteran Authors Book Corner.
This month’s author is Air Force Veteran Irene Trowell-Harris, who served in the New York Air National Guard 1963-1986 and 1994-2001 and the Force active duty 1987-1993. She wrote “Bridges: A Life Building and Crossing Them.” The book depicts her challenges from a cotton field to two-star general. It highlights what can be accomplished with determination of not just crossing but building bridges for others to cross for success. It highlights the challenges and opportunities for a trailblazing minority woman as a commander and general officer in a predominantly male environment. Her story of accomplishments is designed to inspire others to emulate her career success.
What are you doing now, significant moment(s) during your service and other unique information?
I am retired from the Air Force and Department of Veterans Affairs and currently serve on numerous policy committees including the American Academy of Nursing Military and Veterans Expert Panel, New Jersey City University Board of Trustees, Tuskegee Airmen Foundation Board of Trustees, Lee Archer Red Tail Flying Program Board of Directors and Mt. Olive Church Branches of Hope Committee.
Significant moment moments include helping and observing the joy of women Veterans when their claims were approved, attending National Summits on women Veterans, proving their input on policy issues, and being nominated to be recognized at the White House by President Obama. Other significant moments include serving in senior positions as flight nurse examiner, chief nurse executive, commander, advisor to the Chief Nurse Office of the Air Force Surgeon General, director of Center for Women Veterans, and director of Patient Care Inspections Office Health Care Inspections. Unique opportunities include being selected by the Air Force to speak at an International Women’s Conference in Pretoria, South Africa, and to serve as part of a NATO team in Istanbul, Turkey. Also, serving on the White House Council on Women and Girls representing the secretary of VA.
What was your Military branch, career field, and years of service?
I served over 38 years in the New York Air National Guard 1963-1986, 1994-2001 and U.S. Air Force active duty 1987-1993. Professional area nurse.
What were your tours, deployments, and campaigns?
Served during the Vietnam era and Gulf War 1963-2003.
What notable commendations did you receive?
- Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
- Legion of Merit
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
- Air Force Organizational Excellence Award with one oak leaf cluster
- National Defense Service Medal with service star
- Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
What was your fondest or proudest memory during your military service?
Mentoring young women and men to excel in their professional careers. Next was graduating from Flight Nurse School at the Aerospace School of Medicine, Flight Nurses Branch, Brooks Air Force Base, Texas.
What was your inspiration for becoming an author, or writing this book (for instance, a childhood dream, a significant life experience, a person)?
My inspiration was observing a jet airplane flying over while I was picking cotton at age 13 in Aiken, South Carolina. That experience inspired me to prepare myself to become an Air Force flight nurse. I wrote this book to inspire others to excel in their profession career regardless of their humble beginnings by building bridges for them to pass over for career success.
How has your military experience shaped your creativity or how you express yourself?
Having served over 38 years in the military, my entire career was influenced by this experience. My career has been defined by leadership, mentoring and collaboration. Despite some life challenges, I was able to earn senior flight nurse wings, two stars as major general in U.S. Air Force, a doctorate, wrote two books, chapters in two others, and became director, Center for Women Veterans at VA and White House appointee serving two presidents.
What advice would you give other women Veterans who may be considering becoming an author?
Go for writing the book! First make an outline of your life and career starting from the beginning: family, home, school, college, military service with tours, challenges and how you resolve them, jobs, accomplishments, and recommendations, interview family members and friends. If you consider yourself not to be a good writer, get a ghostwriter to assist you with organization, editing, flow, book type, photos, etc. Carefully review all options for publishing: self-publishing, do homework on publishing companies such types of books they publish – military, veteran, science, etc. Then decide based your book type and the expense of publishing.
How do you believe that women Veteran authors can be instrumental in shaping society’s understanding of women Veterans’ military experience with tours and their contributions?
Women Veteran authors can be instrumental in shaping society’s understanding by showcasing their experiences, challenging military assignments, special tours, and contributions widely in social media. This includes how we are mentoring young women, assisting them in obtaining scholarships, collaborating with schools, assisting new graduates with employment, educating young women about how the political system works, pursuing policy that support women Veterans and using social media to educate society about women Veteran successes.
What were some of your obstacles and challenges in writing this book?
My challenges included organizing a mass amount of information, chapter flow, photos, making sure my messages were clear, publishing expenses, editing and time commitment while employed full time.
What are your recommendations for illustrating, book cover selection, and the publishing process?
Based on your book topic and purpose – select a cover to showcase your message (eye catching). For example I used a book cover with a bridge to draw attention to my challenges of building and crossing bridges. Make illustrations speak to your book purpose and showcase vivid examples in photos or other examples. The publishing process is incredibly challenging – first decide if you will self-publish, employ a publisher company, seek help of a ghostwriter, or have another person write the book for you.
What is one significant thing we should know about you?
I wrote two books and published chapters in two other books on women Veteran policy and leadership.
How has writing this book helped you?
It helped me to improve academically, socially, mentally, writing skills and become more active in policy development and mentoring.
What is your favorite quote?
“Your whole comes alive when you have the determination to follow a dream. To create change, to do what is right over what is easy, and have the courage to value tomorrow as much as you do today. I’ve done this my entire life and know it to be true.”
If you could choose one woman from any point in time to share a meal, who would she be?
Interview conducted by Center for Women Veterans. Learn more at https://www.va.gov/womenvet/.