I felt great pride when Secretary McDonough swore me in as VA chief of staff during this year’s Women’s History Month. It’s been a little over a century since the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting American women the right to vote. Vice President Kamala Harris took her oath in January making her the first woman – and the first woman of color – to hold the second highest office in our country. And during the inauguration, Amanda Gorman – a remarkable young woman and poet – reminded us that “being American is more than a pride / we inherit, / it’s the past we step into / and how we repair it.” All of these events make this a historic time in our nation’s long march of social change toward equal rights for all Americans.
At the Celebration of America on inauguration night, Vice President Kamala Harris opened her remarks by saying, “It is my honor to be here. To stand on the shoulders of those who came before.” I echo Vice President Harris’ important sentiments. It is my honor to be here at the Department of Veterans Affairs. And like so many women who have served the nation in uniform, I, too, stand on the shoulders of those who came before me.
I am the beneficiary of the wisdom and experiences of women who guided and supported me. It was thanks to the stern guidance of my mother – a strong Army wife – that I found my way to military service and enlisted in the Army, a path both my grandfather and father paved before me.
On a cold January morning in 1994 at Fort Benning, Georgia, I found direction in the lessons legendary Air Force General Wilma Vaught shared with my Officer Candidate School sisters-in-arms. General Vaught instilled in us deep pride that we were part of something greater than ourselves. She encouraged us to achieve and excel, not just for our own sake, but to honor and perpetuate the long service and sacrifices of courageous women who came before. And she charged us to broaden the way for those who would follow. I am proud that General Vaught’s signature is on my commissioning certificate. Her words, example and legacy continue to resonate with me daily.
It was in General Vaught’s tradition that many other strong women marched with me. They were service members and Veterans, moms and military wives. They excelled in so many important roles. Those women who came before me taught me how to achieve professional and personal balance in my dual-military family. They reminded me that we can have it all, just not all at the same time, and that success requires hard work and shared sacrifice. They reassured me that we will all fail from time to time, but that quitting is the only real failure. And they showed me grace and space – the grace to pause, to give ourselves time, to seek forgiveness, and the space to forgive others and ourselves and to then move on.
Underlining it all were important lessons of community, of support from a village of friends and colleagues I could reach out to for advice and help, and who could, in turn, reach out to me. Now, thanks to so many, mine are the shoulders on which others can stand.
As VA’s celebration of Women’s History Month draws to a close, I’m honored to be stepping off in this next phase of my life as a woman Veteran and proud member of this VA community. As a Veteran, as the granddaughter and daughter of Veterans, as part of a family of military kids, this job is so much more than a job. It is personal. I know the same is true for many others serving in the military and here at VA.
And it bears repeating that there is no more noble mission than VA’s. There is no more sacred obligation than serving our Veterans, caring for them and their families, survivors and caregivers. I embrace our shared duty to proudly welcome and warmly embrace all Veterans equally – women and men, Veterans of color, and LGBTQ Veterans – and to celebrate their humanity and diversity as we passionately celebrate their courage, selfless service, and sacrifices for us all.
God bless all of you and your families, and the Veterans, families, survivors and caregivers it’s our privilege to serve.
Tanya J. Bradsher is the VA chief of staff.