Iraq War vet: Wanda Butler

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 03:40 PM

(Editor's Note: This is the first in an occasional series honor female veterans. The story and photo were submitted by Barbara Funderburk, veterans services chairman, The Waxhaws Chapter, Daughters of the American Colonists, to commemorate Operation Iraq/Enduring Freedom Day on Wednesday, March 26.)

She had just landed her helicopter in Saudi Arabia’s searing mid-day heat.Getting out, she took off her helmet letting her hair drop down.

A shepherd was watching this. His eyes widened as he raised his hands and began shouting with shock and outrage at the sight of a woman flying an aircraft.

Union County’s Wanda Butler experienced this and much more while serving with the Army’s 24th Infantry Division’s rapid deployment force in Saudi Arabia and then in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

Nighttime flying was especially precarious. You risked being shot down if you had any lights on in the chopper; likewise, no landing lights were allowed. Any lights would provide the enemy with a target.

The desert didn’t offer any distinctive landmarks with its barren sameness, particularly at night. Throw a dust storm into the mix, and you had a scenario requiring heightened flight skills and an adventurous spirit. Wanda had both. She had been only one of two female graduates in her helicopter training class. She credits a JROTC instructor with planting a seed of adventure in her when she had no specific direction in life.

The Army wanted its servicewomen to wear Muslim clothing covering their heads and arms to show respect for Muslim culture while the men were allowed to wear T-shirts in the 100-plus degree heat. The servicewomen raised some dust about this inequity. The Army relinquished its directive, and things got back to normal for all.

Wanda appreciates the military for giving her the opportunity to do what she yearned to do. She says the opportunity to serve has given her a whole new appreciation for the flag after seeing “bombs bursting in air.”

Wanda left the military for her other mission in life: caring for her special-needs child born while she was serving our country. She has four children, two of whom graduated from Union County public schools and two who currently attend them.

Women have served with and in America’s armed forces in all of its wars. From the Revolution’s Molly Pitcher to the present, women can be found from raw recruits to general officers.

Today, women in active service comprise about 20 percent of the U.S. military. That is an 18 percent increase from the 2 percent serving in the 1950’s. Union County’s Daughters of the American Colonists wishes to pay tribute to these daughters, wives, and mothers with roots in Union County who have served our country so admirably.