A bittersweet celebration for vets
Memorial Day is about honoring military members who sacrificed their lives. Often it’s their families and their living comrades who remain to tell their stories. We talked to three female veterans in the Dover area about their thoughts on Memorial Day.
We asked: “What does Memorial Day mean to you?”
“For me, Memorial Day is actually kind of tough. That’s actually common among veterans because we all know someone who didn’t make it home,” said Kim Petters, Air Force veteran.
Now living in Magnolia with her family and a strong veterans’ advocate, Petters saw 10 years of active duty. Her job involved taking care of the remains of fallen military.
“For veterans, we honor them every single day,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by where we don’t think of our fallen.”
She said she often spends the day checking in on her fellow veterans because she knows the celebrations can be bittersweet. “For some veterans, it is a reminder of their buddy that they lost,” she said.
She encourages them that it’s OK if this time of year is especially difficult. “If you’re having trouble, reach out to one of your brothers and sisters,” she said.
More of her story
After leaving the military, Kim Petters continues to defend and advocate for veterans.
She was a major force in rallying support for Senate Bill 24, which was signed into law last year, and made it easier for veterans to access medical marijuana for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
“That was a hard fight,” Petters said. Before the bill passed, veterans had to get a specialist’s signature to be prescribed medical marijuana, one of the only non-addictive treatments available for PTSD, Petters said.
“Since that passed, PTSD is the second most common reason people in Delaware seek medical marijuana,” she said.
Beyond Legislative Hall, she often stands up for female veterans. While women continue to face gender bias and other disparities, she said she has seen progress. A monument was dedicated to Delaware’s military women in 2017 and more veterans’ resources have been extended to women over the years.
“The more we’re recognized, the more we can all come together to help each other,” she said.
Her advice for young women? “They can do anything they want in this lifetime,” she said. “ If they want to join the military, I say to them, ‘Pick any job that you want and don’t hold back. Go for it.’”
“For me, it’s to thank [the fallen]. I pray for them. I go through as many people to include those that I lost in my unit. I will sit and I will say their name and I will remember them,” said Christina Chidester, Camden VFW post commander and an Army veteran.
As she creates her own history as the first female commander of Post 3238, Chidester said Memorial Day prompts her to think about the female veterans that paved the way before her, whether they were nurses during World War II or combat veterans.
She hopes that civilians will remember that the purpose of Memorial Day is to honor those who have passed away, not the veterans who are still living.
“Of course, I’m grateful for the thank-yous but it’s more about remembering who’s not here,” she said. If people see veterans handing out poppies or are unsure about how they can commemorate Memorial Day, she encourages them to ask.
“If you see a veteran, talk to them,” she said. “Sometimes that’s all we need, is someone to talk to.”
More of her story
While deployed with the Army, Christina Chidester was driving a vehicle and hit a sinkhole. She immediately jumped out to check on the 12 other soldiers with her when she heard a pop in her back. She thought of her comrades first.
“I had to keep going to make sure everyone was OK,” she said.
A serious back injury would soon mean the end of Chidester's military career, but it wasn't the end of her story. When she learned that she couldn’t work any more, she entered the foster program.
“I [thought I] might as well take care of children that needed to be taken care of,” she said. Already the birth mother of two children, she took in two siblings, a boy and a girl at 18 months and 4 months old.
About six months later, the biological mother of these two children called. She was pregnant again and asked if Chidester would take care of the new baby, too. “At that point, I was like sure, what’s one more?” Chidester said.
She adopted all three children about a year later. Single, in her mid-40s, she said it was like a new beginning as she cared for an infant and two toddlers. “I called myself Old Mother Hubbard,” she said, laughing,
She first learned about Veterans of Foreign Wars when she talked to Marc Garduno, now the state commander of the VFW, at an informational fair at Caesar Rodney High School. She was intrigued by the organization’s youth programs and decided to give it a shot.
Little by little, she got more involved at the Camden post and led a committee for hosting a Code Purple shelter. Then, she was nominated and awarded the position of post commander, the first female commander in the post’s history.
“My motto became ‘unity in community,’” she said. “I wanted to bring more women to the post. I wanted to open it up and let women know that they are honored, just as much as the men. They are worth just as much as the men.”
She succeeded, too. Back in November, around Veterans Day, Garduno said the Camden Post had the most female veterans in the state. “It really made me proud that they understood that we could make a difference, too, outside of being in [active] duty or reserves,” Chidester said.
“Memorial Day is a very, very special day for me. It’s a day of celebrating the [lives] of my loved ones,” said Omegia Randleman, Army veteran and Dover VFW post commander.
Each Memorial Day, Randleman and her family visit a monument in New Jersey and remember their past family members who devoted their lives to the military. She served for almost three decades, and remembers singing in the military band this time of year.
“It means honoring those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country to be free,” she said. She reminds people that this day is in honor of all those who sacrificed, including prisoners of war and their families left without closure.
More of her story
Serving in both reserves and active duty, Omegia Randleman spent 28 years in the Army. She achieved the rank of Staff Sgt. and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Often the only woman in the group, “It has not been easy for me,” she said. “I have always had to fight my way up when it came to the military.”
While deployed to Iraq, she was caught in ambushes, managed exploded headquarters and suffered several injuries, “We were over there in the thick of a lot of the fights. A lot of the chaos,” she said.
She left the military in 2013 and was diagnosed with neuropathy, carpal tunnel, PTSD and other illnesses. Now a nurse for Bayada Home Health, she said she doesn’t let any of her health challenges stop her. She works the night shift and travels as far south as Laurel to take care of children with special needs.
“I love my nursing career. It’s been rewarding,” she said.
That same pride exudes from Randleman as she talks about her work with veterans. She recently became the Dover VFW post’s first female post commander in its more than 80-year history.
“I love what I do, knowing that I’m helping to make a difference in a veteran’s life,” she said. When she took charge, the post’s building had been shut down and their membership was dwindling. Randleman had some ideas for change.
“At first, I was told to not be so strong. Because guys kind of get upset if you’re too powerful,” she said. “[But, the other members have] asked me to step into this position, and I’m going to do the job to the best of my ability.”
Under her leadership, the post has received awards for community service and increased membership. Right now, members meet in the Camden post’s building, but she hopes to find one of their own to help grow the post’s outreach programs.
“That’s my main goal for my next year: to start knocking on some more doors,” she said.