Finally! U.S. Army Unveils First Female Soldier Statue

Lt. FAWMA, at the U.S. Army Women's Museum. Photo: FAWMAThere’s a new G.I. Jane in town, and she’s wearing serious combat gear and armed with a loaded M4 rifle. She’s also made of bronze. She is "Lt. FAWMA," the first statue commissioned to recognize the service of Army women that’s located on an Army post, unveiled just in time for Veterans Day.

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“She doesn’t just represent the contemporary military women — she represents all of them throughout history,” sculptor Alex Tisch of Kodiak Studios in Brooklyn tells Yahoo Shine. Tisch created the bronze-coated fiberglass combat soldier through a cold-cast process after being commissioned by the Army Women’s Museum Association, located at Fort Lee in Virginia. The association, which raised an undisclosed amount of private contributions to make the project happen, presented the statue on its grounds in a Nov. 7 ceremony.

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“A great amount of care and thought was put into the creation,” Army Women’s Museum Association director Francoise Bonnell tells the official U.S. Army blog. “She is youthful and reflects the energy of a young female soldier. She is wearing all equipment that soldiers use while in a field training environment or while deployed.” The U.S. Army Women’s Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to Army women, exhibiting, collecting and archiving their contributions beginning with the American Revolution.

Lt. FAWMA, whose name stands for Friends of the Army Women’s Museum Association, is the result of two years of planning and fundraising. After coming up with the concept for the sculpture and photographing a local officer in appropriate combat gear, the museum association sent the image to Tisch, with some particular requests.

“They wanted her to look multiracial and, even covered with all that gear, for her to still read as a woman,” he tells Shine. The artist then found a model that the association approved — a 5-foot-6 woman of Puerto Rican descent — and did one long body-cast session with her to create the final work.

The statue comes at a historic time for women in the military. It was just less than a year ago, after all, that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced women were welcome to serve in combat, lifting the ban that prevented women from holding more than 238,000 positions, from pararescue jumper to Air Force combat air controller. Panetta’s announcement also made official what had long been an unofficial reality, as, at that time, more than 150 female soldiers had already been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But there’s something about immortalizing historic moments in bronze that makes them really resonate with, and become fact for, society. 

“The images we’re given in our country are the images we remember,” Diane Carlson Evans, a former Army nurse who fought for the creation of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., tells the Washington Post. “If you only see men, you only think of men in warfare.”

That bronze sculpture, of three military nurses surrounding a dying soldier, came out of Evans's and other nurses' appeals to Congress and three federal commissions during a nine-year campaign for recognition. Everyone from top columnists to Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin discouraged the project at first. On Monday, Evans and a crowd of others honored its 20th anniversary. But it’s still something of a novelty, with seemingly few exceptions.

One of them stands in Virginia, where, in 2011, a ceremony was held to dedicate a female-soldier statue on state capitol grounds. That moment came only after more than a decade of political bickering over details of the statue’s appearance and location. It depicts a post-Persian Gulf War veteran and symbolizes the increased military role of women since that 1991 conflict. “That was the impetus for her,” sculptor Joe Mullins told the Charleston Gazette at the time. “She was supposed to be treated the same way as the guys were. That’s the reason she's got fatigues on.”

And in May of this year, Coleman Veterans Memorial in Michigan unveiled a new statue, "Female Combat Soldier"— also in fatigues, and armed.

It’s high time, really, as more than 210,000 women were in the active-duty military, according to Pentagon statistics, as of 2011. That’s nearly 15 percent of the total active force of 1.46 million, plus nearly 20 percent of the reserve force and 20 percent of new recruits, according to Service Women’s Action Network, which aims to eliminate all barriers to women serving in the military. 

“The simple truth is: the military cannot function without women, and it’s becoming more and more obvious, based on the battles we choose to fight and they forms they take — asymmetrical, protracted, non-linear battlefields — that the combat arms cannot function without women,” notes the Daily Beast’s Mariette Kalinowski. “The nation is beginning to recognize this truth.”

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