Pheasant Court Winery will sell bottles of the latest release from BFF Cellars this weekend to serve as a fundraiser for Red Feather Ranch. (Photo by Eric Niemann)

Women have proudly served in our military for over 200 years. They have served as nurses, pilots, surgeons, drill sergeants, radio operators, paratroopers, logisticians, cooks, clerks, military police, computer specialists and most importantly, leaders.

They have volunteered to serve right alongside their male comrades in arms in the same military since the Revolutionary War. They are proud of their country. Yet, while they are highly visible in uniform, many tend to become less visible as women veterans once they leave the service.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are approximately 20 million veterans of the United States Armed Services. Approximately 2 million of these are women.

This month, Love of Learning sat down with Kings Valley resident Paige Jenkins to learn more about our women veterans. Paige is a proud woman veteran of the U.S. Navy where she spent four years on active duty, eight years in the Naval Reserve and two additional years in the California Army National Guard.

She believes that by building a community by, for and with women veterans, where each and every woman veteran is honored, women veterans can and will transform their wounds to blessings.

She was driven to create a local nonprofit called Red Feather Ranch, described on its website as “a transformational earth-based place where women veterans and their children can transcend trauma through their relationships with land, livelihood and community.”

A red feather is representative of trauma.

Paige Jenkins attended Navy basic training in Orlando, Florida, in 1987. (Photo provided by Paige Jenkins)

Many women enter the service, achieve remarkable things, move up the ranks and are honorably discharged. They often feel like they were a positive part of something bigger than themselves, yet when seeking to connect with other women veterans, they can’t always find each other due to the lack of women veteran organizations.

Red Feather Ranch is the only Oregon-based women veterans organization.

At the same time, based on numerous exit surveys, 44% of women veterans indicated they experienced some form of military sexual trauma (MST). Of the women who have experienced MST, many do not report it. Of those who do, the majority experience institutional betrayal trauma either within their command and or in the military justice system.

Many of these women leave the service earlier than they had planned and often disconnect from their good experiences and the purpose they had prior to their traumatic event. These women often feel stigmatized in the Department of Veterans Affairs and in traditional veteran organizations. 

Regardless of whether it is Combat PTSD or Military Sexual Trauma, the VA categorizes both as post-traumatic stress. Women experience much higher rates of MST than men. 

Women veterans who experienced MST may be inclined to exit the service and never look back. They may elect not to seek out health benefits, educational scholarships, or low-interest home loans that they earned through serving. This may be attributed to fearful thinking that they do not want to be disappointed again by an organization that may feel already let them down in some way.  While it is sad to consider that any woman veteran may feel this way, it is certainly not unthinkable.

According to a Women Veterans Report published by the VA in 2015 entitled “Past, Present and Future of Women Veterans,” out of 2 million eligible women veterans, only 840,000, or just 41%, utilized one or more of their VA benefits they are eligible for. As a nation, we must do better.

Statistics like these, along with her own personal experiences, convinced Paige to act by creating an alternate safe space where women veterans can help one another get the help they need and transform their experiences. Traumatized women need a place to heal.

The intergenerational nature of Red Feather Ranch’s participants provides a unique opportunity. Older women who may have had similar experiences can offer sage wisdom to younger women as they begin their healing process. Likewise, younger women offer inspiration and support for the older women veterans.

Page Jenkins and her older brother pose for a photo on the porch of their mother’s home during Christmas leave in 1987. (Photo provided by Paige Jenkins)

Love of Learning reached out to Elizabeth Estabrooks, the deputy director of the VA’s Center for Women Veterans. She supports change that develops and implements transformative initiatives that better support our women veterans. She applauds the work of Paige Jenkins and the Red Feather Ranch.

Prior to her current assignment, Estabrooks was the Oregon women veterans coordinator with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs and sees the ranch as a great compliment to the services that the VA currently offers.

Said Estabrooks, “There is a scarcity of facilities like this on the West Coast that can help “women veterans emotionally, physically and mentally.” 

To support Red Feather Ranch’s first in-person retreat, Pheasant Court Winery is hosting a wine fundraiser at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 7. Pheasant Court Wineries is run locally by Marcia Gilson and her husband, Charlie, on the outskirts of Philomath. The event will feature the release of their new BFF cellars label wine.

Funds raised will be split between Red Feather Ranch and Pheasant Court Winery, which is located at 1731 Pheasant Court. Special release pricing will be available at the winery on Saturday.

Those attending will also have a chance to meet Paige and learn more about Red Feather Ranch and their work.

This may be a good way to sample a bottle and toast to all our veterans who honorably served. If your mother happens to be a veteran, a bottle from BFF Cellars may be a great way to toast your mom on Sunday, which is Mother’s Day. You may also want to take one home to pop a cork open in a few weeks as we observe Memorial Day on May 30. 

We must never forget our men or our women who served in or out of uniform and as per the Ranger Creed, “we must never leave a fallen comrade.”’

(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).

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