National Association of Black Military Women

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Learn about the National Association of Black Military Women, which held its 20th biennial reunion in Phoenix.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to this special Veterans Day edition of "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Tonight, we highlight a group that doesn't often receive a lot of attention, a group that chose Phoenix to hold its 20th biennial reunion. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Scot Olsen have the story.

CHRISTINA ESTES: These women represent hundreds of years of military service. They are members of the National Association of Black Military Women. Retired army colonel Stephanie Dawson is their leader.

STEPHANIE DAWSON: One of the key missions is to make sure that her story is told, to round out his-tory.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Like her sister, Dr. DORIS Allen enlisted in the military after college. This three-time bronze star recipient and member of the military intelligence hall of fame was motivated by her brother's World War II experience.

DORIS ALLEN: He was shell shocked just like PTSD now, it's the same thing, but I saw that, I didn't recognize it, of course, and I asked him what happened? And he was telling me what happened, he got a purple heart anyway and I said I'm going to get him for that.

CHRISTINA ESTES: She served three years in Vietnam, as a P.O.W. interrogator and intelligence analyst.

DORIS ALLEN: I was there for 10 combat campaigns. I drank every day. At least I didn't smoke pot. At least I didn't use drugs, other drugs, but I drank every day. And that was a release. Many, many people drank in Vietnam. Many came home still alcoholics and drug addicts. And I thank god every day that I'm alive and well.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Gratitude is on display at the group's reunion. Tables are covered with poster boards that highlight servicewomen with a special focus on the World War II generation.

DORIS ALLEN: And I remember seeing her.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Major charity Adams was the first African-American woman to be an officer in the women's auxiliary corps. She commanded the army's central postal directory battalion. Known as six triple eight, it was the only battalion of black woman to serve overseas in World War II.

DORIS ALLEN: They worked in England and France.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Before Adams made history in Europe, she endured racism at home. In the early 1940s, Adams was among nearly 40 black woman in the corps' first training class in Iowa. That's also where AZALIA Oliver attended basic training.

AZALIA OLIVER: It was interesting. We loved in a hotel. The blacked on the top three floors and the whites on the lower three floors. They did everything first and we did everything later.

CHRISTINA ESTES: It didn't get any better after Oliver was sent to Fort Riley Kansas. After a crash course in nursing, they had to care for soldiers who didn't care for them. Oliver says when a member of the women's army corps known as WAC would complain, the captain would march them down to the commander's office.

AZALIA OLIVER: The commander was from Texas, and he hated black people, and he used say here comes them G.D., N-Wac's to complain. It got to be a joke with us. We could laugh at that. But it also made a point, because eventually we went down there so often that he put out a memorandum to the entire hospital that the next soldier who called a WAC out of her name could go home dead or alive, he didn't care but he wasn't having to put up with us anymore.

STEPHANIE DAWSON: It doesn't really make me mad. It makes appreciate even more what they overcame.

AZALIA OLIVER: Whenever they show pictures of the past, what the country has done and what a group has done, they always leave us out. But we're expected to perform willingly with smiles on our faces.

SAMMIE CLAY: Right now, I'm 80 years old and if it were possible I would still be in the military.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Sammie Clay enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 18 and served during the Vietnam and Korean wars.

SAMMIE CLAY: It teaches young people discipline, it teaches a degree of respect, it teaches, you know, all the things that I don't think they're learning right now.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Recognizing the past was the goal of 20 women who gathered at a Virginia home in 1976. It marked the start of the national association of black military women. The group has grown to six chapters with members in 28 states.

PARTICIPANT: This is my youngest daughter.

CHRISTINA ESTES: They hold reunions every two years to remember the good and bad. And to cherish the present.

DORIS ALLEN: Life is okay. War was them but I live it every day. At night, at night, I dream, I still dream. I still have the startle effect, still all those things that make you feel stupid sometimes, when you get startled and people look at you and I tell them I have PTSD. So but that's all right. I'm fine. When you've done your job well, and I think all of us feel that way, we did our job well and we have nothing more to prove.

TED SIMONS: A 2011 study by the pew research center found that black women enlist at far higher rates than white or Hispanic women and they represent nearly a third of all women in the military. You can learn more about the National Association of Black Military Women at nabmw.com.

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