Veteran remembers those who sacrificed all during Oregon’s Memorial Day service

Oregon VFW members salute as two wreathes are placed on Lorado Taft's Soldier and Sailor Monument on the Ogle County Courthouse Lawn as part of  Memorial Day services in Oregon on Monday, May 27, 2024.

OREGON – Tina West served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and shared a brief insight into her military career under a picture-perfect sky at Oregon’s Memorial Day services Monday.

“During my time in service, I faced challenges that all women within the military face. Challenges of just being a female in a male dominated arena, being a single mom, and deployments into war zones,” she said before a crowd of about 100 people at the Riverside Cemetery.

West served from 1998 to 2018 as a technical sergeant with five deployments: Kosovo in 1999, Qatar in 2003 and 2004, Afghanistan in 2009 and Saudi Arabia in 2015.

She was stationed at multiple bases during her tenure: Lakenheath AB in the United Kingdom, Charleston AFB in South Carolina, Edwards AFB and Beale AFB both in California, and finally Scott AFB in southern Illinois.

West’s job was originally called the Services Career Field, but was changed to Force Support a few years before her retirement. Those duties included multiple areas including food service, fitness, lodging or hotel management and the readiness section for preparing airmen for deployments, mortuary affairs, and protocol.

Veteran Tina West speaks at the Memorial Day service at Riverside Cemetery in Oregon on Monday, May 27, 2024.

“I have worked in all of these areas and let me tell you some are really fun and enjoyable; others were depressing and hard to get up and accomplish every day,” she said.

“As we are gathered here for Memorial Day, which is a day to remember all those that have served and lost their lives, I will tell you about one of my jobs I held while in the Air Force. I will also explain why I am not wearing my dress uniform, which most persons giving a speech or an event wear. During my tenure at Scott Air Force Base, here in Illinois, I was the Mortuary Affairs Officer.”

The primary purpose of that position was to assist families with funeral services for their loved ones, she said, explaining that she would travel with her commander to the homes of the deceased and speak with their spouse or parents to determine how to assist their family.

“A lot of times this was met with anger and of course sadness for their loss,” she said. “On top of arranging funeral services, I was also charged with inspecting the remains of the deceased to ensure that they were properly dressed in their dress uniforms, and presentable for the families to see. This particular job takes a toll on those that perform it, you lose a sense of yourself and shut off emotions to be able to survive. Seeing friends and families hurting on a daily basis, not understanding why their loved ones died, be this by suicide, accident, cancer, war, or other natural causes,” she said.

“The last time I wore my service dress uniform was at my grandfather’s funeral a few years ago, I will only wear this uniform for funeral services. Even for my own retirement I wore the uniform that I am currently in. My dress uniform holds memories of seeing families broken and at their worst, trying to deal with hardships that no parent or spouse should have to experience,” she said.

West reflected on how the role of women in military service has evolved.

“While all branches of the military have been around for quite some time, and women did serve in the military, they weren’t allowed to fill all positions. In the late 80s and 90s women were not allowed in combat units or positions that would include direct combat, hostile fire, or capture. Women in the military didn’t start to participate in combat roles until 2015 when the ban on women in combat was lifted. This meant that women could join career fields that were predominately male,” she said.

West told the crowd that her daughter, Eliana, a recent Oregon High School graduate, is joining the Army to become a Cavalry Scout.

“This job leads, serves, or assists as a member of a scout crew in reconnaissance, security, cordon/search, and other combat operations,” she said. “The first female Cavalry Scout in the U.S. Army didn’t happen until 2016; as of a few years ago this career field is still only roughly 2% female.”

West reminded everyone to remember that even though the military is predominantly male, there are those who serve who are female.

“It’s not always the wife/mother sending the husband or son to war, now it could be the husband or father sending their wife, mother or daughter to war to serve their country,” she said. “Today is Memorial Day, which is a day to remember, show respect, and honor the brave men and women who died while in the service to our country. They paid the ultimate sacrifice and are missed by spouses, children, parents, extended family, friends, and their comrades every day of the year. This day I encourage you to reflect on their sacrifice,” she said.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

Earleen creates content and oversees production of 8 community weeklies. She has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.