Having served in both the Army and Air Force, Linda Tucker was one of the first women to be allowed in the combat zone when she was part of Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
While American Legion posts welcome any veteran, VFWs require members to have served overseas.
Tucker qualified, but she said she didn't feel welcomed.
Still, she said, she "learned the by-laws, read the regulations and learned what I could do."
As she rose through various VFW offices and attended VFW events, she was soon heard, not just seen, she said.
Tucker is now commander of District 7 Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. She oversees nine VFWs, three in Carroll County: Westminster, Union Bridge and Mount Airy.
While the number of female VFW members is growing, women veterans are not taking advantage of the resources the VFWs and American Legions can provide Tucker said. Those resources include discounts on various services as well as comaraderie with fellow veterans who understand a military life.
"How do we reach them?" Tucker asked. "Females have a right to be in these organizations. They earned the right to be here."
Barbara Floyd, a nurse in the Air Force, was stationed in Korea in the 1960s.
She joined the VFW in 2002 and has slowly become more involved. She was the first, and she currently is the only woman to be invited to be in the VFW National Honor Guard a position she still holds.. The guards are responsible for protecting the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Tucker served in a combat zone during Desert Storm and she was quick to also defend the policy allowing that.
"I can do the job any male veteran can do," Tucker said.
However, she said she sees many disadvantages to allowing women to serve in a combat zone, from shifting a man's focus to protection of female troops to simple hygiene concerns.
"I was in a convoy three or four days straight in a massive sand box," Tucker said. "The bathroom — you go in the middle of the sand box. A woman's monthly ... not a good combination."
The toll combat takes on a woman's body is another reason.
"Women are not built like men," said Floyd, who is a nurse. "Women can't take a lot of the strain."
Tucker suffered back pain that, after many misdiagnoses, was discovered to be the result of tumors. She also had to have a hysterectomy.
"We can, and do, suffer the consequences," Tucker said.
With more and more women joining the military, the need for better services for women is growing, Tucker said, and groups such as VFWs are evolving to help.
As commander, — a job for which she is not paid — Tucker has formed committees seeking better women's clinics at VA hospitals.
She is working to ensure that all veterans — men and women— have their claims processed in a timely and correct fashion.
"The reward is the smile on a veteran's face," Tucker said.