Connections and resources for Alaska women veterans

by the Rasmuson Foundation

Women veterans in Alaska now have a new tool to learn about services, improve their visibility and connect to the state’s growing women veterans’ community.

Operation Mary Louise is a statewide community-based women veterans project that is being launched Monday, Nov. 9, Alaska Women Veterans Day. The project is named after veteran pioneer Col. Mary Louise Rasmuson, who served in the military from 1942-1962.

As director of the Women’s Army Corps, she expanded opportunity for all women, which included her successful effort to integrate Women of Color. When she retired in 1962, she moved to Alaska with her husband, Elmer Rasmuson, a banker and future Anchorage mayor who co-founded Rasmuson Foundation. She gave back to her adopted state just as she had in the military.

A new website, operationmarylouise.org, will share resources for women veterans and connect Alaska women veterans with one another. Alaska has more than 10,000 women veterans, but fewer than one-third are signed up for VA health services. Women veterans can access services through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other state and community organizations but often do not. Through connections, advocacy and information, the project aims to change that.

“Too often, women aren’t visible as veterans or connected to services that can assist them. We want women veterans in Alaska to know they are seen and their service is important,” said Vanessa Meade, a U.S. Army Gulf War Army veteran who, with Marine veteran Penney Champney, co-leads the project steering committee.

The steering committee also includes representatives from: Alaska Coalition for Veterans and Military Families, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Social Work, the offices of U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Gold Star Peak, Anchorage Health Department, Rasmuson Foundation, The Alaska Community Foundation and Alaska Public Media. Representatives from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson provided consultation for the project.

“Operation Mary Louise will be a resource for women veterans around the state,” Murkowski said. “This new website will not only ensure our female veterans are acknowledged and appreciated, but that they are connected and have access to the resources and the support that they need and have earned.”

In 2013, Rasmuson Foundation endowed a Women Veterans Fund at The Alaska Community Foundation with $500,000 in honor of Mary Louise Rasmuson, who served on the Rasmuson Foundation board for 45 years. ExxonMobil and the Weinberg Foundation are among the other donors. The new project is being housed at the UAA School of Social Work. Meade is an assistant professor in social work who earlier founded Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (AVOW), an organization to connect women veterans to their community.

“What a fitting way to honor Mary Louise,” said Judy Rasmuson, a Foundation board member. Her father, Elmer, introduced Mary Louise to Alaska and vice versa. “She wouldn’t want the attention on herself, but she would be delighted to see such committed support for women veterans. She integrated the Women’s Army Corps and devoted her military career to helping all women succeed in the Army.”

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