Riverhead saluted women in military service and women veterans last night with “Operation Eagle Heart,” a dinner and program at Polish Hall.
The event was organized by the Riverhead Town Veterans Committee to commemorate women’s history month and supported by a host of local businesses, organizations and individuals.
Twenty women in active military service and veterans were honored at the event.
Riverhead Fire Department ladder trucks displayed a large American flag over the entrance of Polish Hall.
Riverhead High School NJROTC, Wading River Boy Scout Troop 94 and the Patriot Guard Riders presented the colors. Judy Hettrick sang the Star Spangled Banner and Councilman Tim Hubbard led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Living Water Church choir performed a medley of patriotic songs.
Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith welcomed the crowd on behalf of the town and reflected on the the obstacles women have had to overcome in their desire to serve their country in the military. These trailblazers created opportunities for future generations, creating “a legacy beyond military service,” Jens-Smith said.
“Their legacy will be measured not only by what they have done to protect our country, but also by the path that they have laid for the women of the future,” she said.
“Those that fought for equality in the military, carrying on the proud tradition of our armed services, keeping alive America’s proud message to the world: no matter who you are, no position, no job, no opportunity is beyond your reach,” Jens-Smith said.
“They served in a system that often told them ‘no — you cannot serve in combat, you can’t become a four-star general, you can’t receive the same benefits. These women, in the face of all those nos, have said ‘just watch.'”
Following the supervisor to the podium, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio noted that the path of women in the military has not been an easy one. “You have faced challenges and perceptions that you were not up to the job because of your gender, but you stuck it out…you rose to all the challenges along the way and all of you broke one glass ceiling after another,” Giglio said.
“We thank you for your service and we are proud to be gathered here today to honor you.”
Councilman James Wooten read a poem called “I Am Solider” by Diana Hahlbohm.
Suffolk County American Legion Commander Mike Pankowski of Riverhead handled the emcee duties for the evening.
Retired U.S. Army First Lieutenant Felicia Hobson gave the keynote speech. A Riverhead native and 1991 Riverhead High School graduate, Hobson went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Northeastern University before enlisting in the Army in 1996. She became a military intelligence analyst attached to the 742nd Military Intelligence Battalion in Fort Meade, Maryland. She later joined the Maryland National Guard. Over the course of her military career, Hobson deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Kuwait. She is the recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal. She earned a second master’s degree in Homeland Security Management in 2014 from the University of Maryland and is employed as a cyber security engineer.
Hobson, an accomplished athlete at Riverhead High School, where here basketball scoring record stood for 22 years, said she went to college with the idea of becoming a lawyer. But God had other plans for her life, she said.
“A seed was planted in me in seventh grade,” Hobson said, when she met a female service member who had also enjoyed a successful high school career in athletics, Sheila Lindsey. “Who knew that I would follow a similar path? God.”
Hobson enlisted in the Army prior to finishing her education at Northeastern. Her military career took her around the world and gave her opportunities she never imagined possible.
Following Hobson’s speech, VFW Post 2476 Commander Thomas Najdzion read the honoree roll call and Councilwoman Catherine Kent presented the honorees with certificates and proclamations.
This was a first-time event for the Riverhead Town Veterans Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Elizabeth Stokes and Kimberly Judd Burns. Both were pleased with the turnout, which filled Polish Hall, and the participation of the community.
“Local residents, businesses and organizations generously donated so that everything we needed was paid for and veterans who could not afford to buy a ticket would be able to attend,” Stokes said. “We’re very grateful for the support.”
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti
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