Veterans Day, a time-honored tradition of honoring the men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Most often the memorial services focus on the men who served, fought and died in service to our country.

This year the organizers of Saturday’s Veterans Day Parade and Memorial Service chose to break with the norm and focus on the women in the Armed Forces who supported, supplied and shuttled the men until they were allowed to serve in combat.

The parade committee selected Col. Jeanette L. Sterner, the first woman ever to receive the rank of colonel who was not a member of the medical branch, as the parade grand marshal.

Sterner is currently serving in the Texas Army National Guard, assigned to the Texas Joint Forces Headquarters and holds the position of chief of health services.

Her passion for service started with her father as she followed in his footsteps and joined the Army more than 28 years ago.

“My father served during World War II and therefore I always had a desire to also serve my country,” Sterner said.

Her family members were immigrants from Czechoslovakia, and always held in high esteem the duty to one’s country.

“The United States was their ‘savior’ from a defenseless government that was to be taken over by Nazi Germany,” Sterner explained. “Because I did not have any brothers, I felt it was up to me to keep up the family tradition. I joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard because it seemed to provide the most opportunities for women.”

Sterner expressed a sense of pride in her service and said she would do it all again.

“There is no doubt I would chose to serve again,” she stressed. “It has been an honor to serve whatever state I was living in at the time — Oklahoma, Iowa, and Texas; Not to mention the great feeling of patriotism to serve my country during peacetime and wartime.”

Her feelings of pride were strengthened after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I was glad that I could join in the fight against terrorism,” Sterner exclaimed. “Everyone wanted to be a soldier that day!”

In her long and continuing career, Sterner has had many memorable moments, but one event stands out in her mind the most.

“Well, if it were not for the military, I would not have met my husband, Ret. LTC Sven Sterner,” she smiled. “We were both attending a military school at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind.”

Their careers in the military made it all the more enjoyable, she added.

Second to that was being selected to attend the resident program of the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

“I was the first female officer from the Texas Army National Guard to attend the residence program,” Sterner said proudly. “It is a one-year program that is beyond compare.”

According to Sterner, the learning never ended with the numerous seminars, guest speakers from the private sector as well as government officials, interaction with foreign military leaders, and officers from all branches of the military.

“It was a once-in-a-life time experience; if you did not know it before, you soon came to realize what a great and powerful nation we are,” Sterner said. “Our freedoms will not ever falter as long as we maintain the strength of the military to protect those freedoms so dearly won by our forefathers.”

But there were times when her service was not readily accepted.

By her own admission, there were some hard times dealing with people who did not want women in the military.

There were roadblocks for women in the military, she said.

“Sometimes you had to wait for ‘another day’ to fight your battle, but patience and endurance always paid off,” she said. “The good news was, and is, the trouble was with individuals, not the whole organization or unit.”

Sterner compared her service to other jobs in the civilian world.

“Like other jobs I have had in the civilian world, you have people who cannot take change or diversity in the work place,” she said. “As I said, the good news is that right and what is best for the unit or the Army as a whole, usually prevailed.”

Sterner has achieved many things in her career and broke through many barriers.

Her past duty assignments include management; quartermaster; administration and human resources; director of military support operations for the joint forces; chief of health services; three command positions; plans and actions officer for the military personnel office; plans and operations office and G-2/S-2 for 71st Troop Command; and associate professor of military science at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

After Sterner’s tour with troop command, the senior staff of the Texas Army National Guard selected her to be the first female in the Texas Guard to attend the resident program of the U.S. Army War College (AWC), and was recommended for an instructor position at the Army War College in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management.

However, she returned to Texas to assume the position of commander of the 149th Personnel Services Battalion which was activated during the beginning phase of Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom to assist with the deployment of soldiers to Afghanistan, military installations within the United States, and Airport Security. For her efforts, she was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Additionally, under her guidance, her unit conducted readiness processing for Stabilization Force 10 (SFOR 10) to Bosnia. After that command, she was promoted to colonel. During the current transformation period of the U. S. Army and the Joint Forces of Texas, she serves in a dual capacity as director of operations, military support and chief of health services. She is the senior ranking female officer on the staff of Texas Joint Forces Headquarters.

Sterner received her BA degree in Psychology from Oklahoma City University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology from Trinity University, which is affiliated with the University of Texas Medical School in San Antonio. She received a Masters in Strategic Studies at the U.S. Army War College. Sterner’s highest military award is the Meritorious Service Medal, 4th OLC.

Her civilian awards include Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, and Biography of the Directory of Distinguished Americans.

Sterner and her husband have two children, Cathy and Mike.

The Veterans Day Parade will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday in downtown Palestine.

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Sherryl-Lynn Williams can be reached via e-mail at swilliams@palestineherald.com

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