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MARIA CAROLINA GONZÁLEZ-PRATS was two days away from finishing the final phase of Army officer training when, on Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
“There was a sudden realization that we would be going to war,” she says.
González-Prats deployed to Iraq 18 months later, where she led a platoon that provided mission critical supplies and logistical support to the 3rd Infantry Division. Supply units were frequent targets, and although hers never came under fire, “being responsible for the lives of 35 soldiers, many of them parents with small children, weighed heavily on me.”
A DOCTORAL STUDENT in PSU’s School of Social Work, González-Prats is one of 22 women veterans—six of whom are PSU students—featured in a photo exhibit titled “I Am Not Invisible,” a project of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) and PSU’s Veterans Resource Center.
Felita Singleton, director of the PSU center, came up with the idea after repeatedly hearing women student veterans talk of feeling ignored and unappreciated for their military service. Elizabeth Estabrooks from ODVA made the exhibit possible and curated a debut showing at the Portland Art Museum.
Women comprise 9.6 percent of all armed services veterans in the United States. Yet they’re under-recognized and continue to face significant barriers in accessing health care and other services. About 22 percent of women who are active in the military have complained of sexual harassment, and in one year, 4.9 percent reported being sexually assaulted, according to a 2014 Rand Corporation study.
Photographer Sally Sheldon’s portraits depict the women as a powerful, energetic force. “I wanted to capture what all women have inside them: beauty, strength and courage,” she says.
The exhibit is displayed online at www.iani.oregondva.com, along with a schedule of showings (not all portraits included here)
Top image: Penny Akterpy, Army veteran, and Sarah Aktepy, Navy veteran, PSU doctoral student in sociology.
First row, left to right: H. Jean Wojnowski, Army veteran and WWII nurse; Renee E.A. Dick, Army veteran; Dayle Shulda Hite, Air Force veteran; Eileen Garlington, Navy veteran, PSU senior in arts and letters.
Second row, left to right: Jen Bell and Jen Sheetz, Navy veterans; Rosy Marcelino-Macias, Marine Corps veteran; Kim T. Gray, Coast Guard veteran; Victoria Huckaby, Navy veteran.
Third row, left to right: Jacqueline Caputi, Marine Corps veteran, PSU senior in international and global studies; Christina Ebersohl, Army veteran, PSU senior in music performance; Deborah Lynn Peterson, Navy veteran, PSU senior in social work; Maria Carolina González-Prats, Army veteran, PSU doctoral student in social work.
Fourth row, left to right: Carrie Allen, Navy veteran; Elizabeth Estabrooks, Army veteran; Kyleann Hunter, Marine Corps veteran; Mary Mayer, Air Force veteran.
Fifth row, left to right: Amber Stevens, Army veteran; Genai Trixster, Army veteran, and Desiree Coyote, Army veteran; Katie West, Air Force veteran.