2 McHenry County women start SheForce to help other female veterans make connections

Few groups geared toward women who served

Nicole Eisenrich visits with others at the Crystal Lake American Legion tent during the Johnny Appleseed Festival in Crystal Lake Saturday.

Two McHenry County female military veterans are joining forces to start the first program in McHenry County focused on providing connections, resources and camaraderie for other female veterans.

Nicole Eisenrich, 44, of Lake in the Hills, who served in the U.S. Air Force, and Donna Rasmussen, 63, of Crystal Lake, who served in the U.S. Navy, said this would be one of the first groups geared toward only women veterans in northern Illinois.

They said the group, set to kick off in January, is needed for female military vets to meet others like them who have had similar experiences and challenges. The first meeting is planned for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6, at The Community Foundation for McHenry County at 33 E Woodstock Street in Crystal Lake.

The two women said they really never knew any other female veterans until they met each other last year at a Northwest Herald function highlighting military veterans.

Although the traditionally all-male veterans groups and legions are supportive of women, they’re just not the same as a women-only veterans group, they said.

“This is a needed program for female veterans,” said Eisenrich, who was on active duty for five years stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada as a staff sergeant, working on F-15 and F-22 fighter jets. “There is nothing distinctively for women veterans and a focus on mental health. We are not going to do counseling, but we want to enhance and improve the confidence levels and mental health of women veterans.”

Eisenrich and Rasmussen said that after women leave the military, they often take on the roles of wives, mothers and career women, and their existence as veterans takes a back seat and can be forgotten.

The duo hopes that the group reenergizes the veteran in women who participate, bringing that part of their identity back to the forefront and celebrating it.

Rasmussen said she spent five years in the U.S. Navy as a petty officer third class computer operator. She served in San Diego from the ages of 20 to 26. Some of her time was on shore duty, and the last couple of years she worked on the USS Dixon AS37, a working submarine tender.

She said that similar to many female veterans, she “never even talked about being a vet to anyone.”

“I didn’t even put it on my resume,” Rasmussen said. “Until a few years ago, I didn’t even realize I was eligible for services. ... And I experienced trauma as a woman in the military, and most women have experienced some sort of trauma while in the military, whether sexual trauma or war trauma.”

Whatever the trauma a woman veteran has experienced, it likely was “been dismissed or ignored,” she said.

SheForce aims to be a safe place where such trauma can be discussed openly and validated, and where the female veteran can find other women who can relate to their experiences, the women said.

And although this truly is a woman-focused venture, Eisenrich and Rasmussen have received support and encouragement from their male counterparts, including Charles Morgan and Bob Dorn, members of the William Chandler Peterson American Legion Post 171 in Crystal Lake.

Morgan, the legion commander, said most organizations are “hurting” right now to attract members, especially female veterans.

He realized the existing veterans groups are “male-centric and really can’t offer anything to the female veteran.”

“I thought, ‘That is not good,’ ” Morgan said. “We’ve got female veterans out there that need a place to go and talk, and they are struggling in their situations.

“The female veteran community has been forgotten way too long.”

He already knew Eisenrich and Rasmussen, and they started talking about the needs of female veterans. This led to Morgan connecting the women with a SheForce in Plainfield, and the result is the formation of a SheForce to serve female veterans in northern Illinois, they said.

After the women connected with the Plainfield group, Morgan said, he and Dorn then took a back seat.

“[We] said we will do whatever we can to support them to get this going up here and we are backing off,” Morgan said. “It is for them to run it. If they need help, they can just call on us.”

The plan is to facilitate times to host speakers, make connections and participate in activities such as yoga and relaxation.

But there also will be times when Eisenrich said female veterans will have opportunities to try new things and reclaim their strong side.

“There are two sides to a female veteran: a princess side that likes to relax and be pampered ... and then the [tough] side that likes to go out and gain confidence and try new things,” Eisenrich said.

Rasmussen said they want to provide events and activities that appeal to everyone. There will not be any dues or fees to join.

“This is really a time to gather in a group of similar females with shared experiences,” Eisenrich said. “All veterans are brothers and sisters in arms, but to expand on that sisterhood, that is greatly needed.”

For more information, email sheforce@allenforce.org.

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