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Edward Mangano honors women military veterans at luncheon

Top from left, Marine Lt. Antoinette Waller, Naval

Top from left, Marine Lt. Antoinette Waller, Naval Commander Phyllis Zagano, Army Reserve Sgt. Phoebe Ervin, Nassau Executive Edward Mangano, Air Force Major Stacey Cowap, Army Vet Heather Arrue, and seated Airman 1st Class Diamantina Jannone are honored as Nassau County recognizes women in the military on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 in Jericho. Credit: Howard Schnapp

One woman in attendance had been a World War II Army lieutenant, who shipped to the Philippines and New Guinea to serve in a communications unit. Another left her children behind to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Another drove 18-wheelers in Baghdad as mortars menaced her location, one year after the U.S. invasion.

Saying that women have served the nation in military roles “with commitment, honor and leadership,” Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano proclaimed the first week in May “Women in the Military Week” at a luncheon that drew scores of female veterans to a Jericho banquet hall.

“This week, we pause to recognize and thank women veterans for their contributions toward protecting freedom and democracy around the globe,” Mangano said.

The banquet highlighted the contributions of nine women who represented each branch of service, including retired Army Major Nancy C. Leftenant Colon of East Norwich, who the executive’s office said was the first African-American woman to serve in the Army Nurse Corps during WWII, and retired Navy Commander Phyllis Zagano of Lido Beach, who now works as an adjunct professor in the religion department at Hofstra University.

The nine honorees who attended the luncheon said female veterans endure feelings of isolation while serving in a U.S. military where men outnumber women 7-1, and in which women have traditionally been barred from serving in most functions related to combat. Many of them said returning to civilian life could magnify that sense of isolation in a society that typically associates military service with men in combat, and tends not to think of female veterans as likely to need physical or psychological help.

Miriam Rosa-Cummo, who retired as a colonel after 30 years in the Army Reserve, said her service in the Army Nurse Corps left her with uncontrolled post traumatic stress that harmed her relationship with her husband and children.

Rosa-Cummo, who was the keynote speaker, urged the audience to take advantage of psychological services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and watch out for each other as “sisters in arms.”

“Stay connected with each other, because connectivity is the key to resiliency,” Rosa-Cummo said.

“We tend to isolate, but in staying connected, female veterans can serve as support for each other.”

Monique Page, a former Army sergeant who was sent to Baghdad in 2004, said she fell into homelessness last year when the Brooklyn condo she was renting was sold, and psychological stress made it hard for her to find housing. Page, who earned an MBA last spring while working as a waitress at the Hempstead Golf and Country Club, said she lived with various family and friends since then, and currently lives with her parents in New Jersey.

Page said although she battles the impulse to avoid social contact that afflicts many returning veterans, she was grateful that a fellow female veteran persuaded her to attend Wednesday’s gathering.

“You want to stay sheltered because you don’t want to talk about what you are going through,” Page said. “But coming here, you know what their life is like because it was your life, too. For me, it feels like I’ve come to lunch with family.”

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