A thank you to trailblazing women of the military, and all who serve

Janis Gabbart was one of the first of her kind. A woman packing parachutes and jumping out of airplanes for the U.S. Army.

“I joined two weeks after my 18th birthday and my mom didn’t want to sign the papers for me,” she remembers. “They just told her ‘there aren’t many women doing this. She’d be one of a kind.’

It was the 1970’s, a time when many regulations on women in the service were being lifted. But with growing opportunity came plenty of growing pains.

“They had a PT instructor for just women and men had a lot of heartache over that. They’d say ‘They didn’t deserve their wings. They didn’t do what we did. Blah blah blah.’ And I was, like, ‘You know, I had to put up with a lot of garbage that you didn’t have to.’”

For a long time in our country, women primarily served during war time, as nurses, administrators, and secretaries, and later as communications specialists, cryptographers, and intelligence analysts.

“Those women in WWII, oh my gosh. They put up with a lot. Just so I could do what I did.”

The thing is, women were also allowed to be parachute riggers as far back as World War II. They just hadn’t been allowed to jump, strange as that sounds.

With the lifting of military rules and regulations post-Vietnam, hundreds of women became jump-qualified and were assigned to airborne units around the country, jumping with their own chutes. Janis tells us she was the first female U.S. soldier to jump into Panama and Alaska.

“There’s a lot of people who put their lives on the line, so we can walk around and be free. My father was in the European theater during WWII, and my grandfather was over there during WWI. My uncle was in Vietnam, three tours. And I was between wars.

I don’t regret my decision to go to the military at all. I couldn’t be who I am today without that. I’m not afraid of pretty much anything.”

Janis now serves Maricopa County as a registered nurse for Correctional Health Services. She is one of more than 1,300 county employees — about 10% of the workforce — who are past or current military members. Maricopa County has been designated as an Arizona Veteran Supportive Employer, which basically means, we do more than just thank our veterans every November 11th. We put them to work, support them in the community, and provide them and their families the resources to be successful here at home.

To emphasize the importance of our military family this year, we asked county employees to share their six-word messages to veterans, then we made a video highlighting a few of them.

Janis believes the women who served in World Wars I & II paved the way for her just as her service paved the way for her daughters — three of them — who served the U.S. Army in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and Germany post 9/11. The oldest, KC, was a patriot missiles technician. Jaime was a gunner on convoys in Iraq and, later, Afghanistan. Her twin sister Josie was a diesel mechanic.

“My girls can do pushups with the boys,” Janis notes.

Service has been a staple of her family. It is also the focus of our extended family here at Maricopa County.

To those who jumped head-first into a life of service, who broke barriers, who had the backs of their brothers and sisters; who did the grunt work and stood up for this nation’s highest ideals; who showed compassion and resolve in equal measure; who were tired, hurt, or uncertain but went on anyway; to all our veterans on this day and every day: thank you.