Naperville Women: Veterans talk of sacrifice for country they love
By Angela Bender For The Sun November 8, 2012 12:30PM
Nina Petru salutes during a Memorial Day celebration in 2011. | Submitted
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:24AM
When we think of veterans, most likely a picture of a woman is not what immediately springs to mind. But about 1.8 million or 8 percent of the 22.2 million United States veterans are women. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, by 2020, 2 million women will make up 10.7 percent of the total veteran population.
Many of these veterans, like retired Navy reservist Lauren Evans, call Naperville home. Evans, who was a certified neonatal intensive care nurse in 1989, decided she wanted to serve her country when, and at the age of 40, she was directly admitted.
“I thought I’d like to give back to my country,” said Evans, now 64.
She began as an ensign, the lowest ranking officer, and worked up to commander in charge. The time Evans spent in the Navy Reserves she served primarily as a nurse, in cardiac life support, in advanced burn unit, pediatric life support and trauma. Evans has spent time working at a naval hospital alongside other nurses. But she also worked in a clinic in Spain and a medical mission in Honduras. At 59 years old, she was mobilized in 2006 to 2007 in Germany to take care of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009, at the age of 61, Evans retired.
Nina Petru, who serves as the first-ever female commander of Naperville’s VFW Post 3873, joined the Air Force Reserves in 1981 at 27 years old. For 16 of her 25 years, she flew medivac, serving as a medic and then as a surgical assistant. Petru was attached to a flying unit that flew all over the world. She then cross-trained in command and control, and became chief of command post. After 9/11 she called her commander to say she would go back on active duty. In 2003 and 2004, at age 51, Petru was deployed to Iraq. She retired in 2005.
“I was very blessed,” Petru said. “I did get to see a lot.”
Both Evans and Petru made the decision to join the military while they had young children at home. Evans was a married mother of four school-aged children, and Petru a single mother to a second-grade daughter, who has since joined the Air Force herself.
“I had a good family support structure,” Petru, now 59, said. “I knew there’d always be someone looking out for my daughter if I were to deploy.”
Evans also emphasizes how important her family was to her decision to join the reserves.
“My family was very supportive,” she said. “Any military personnel have to have the support of their family. Without that support they can’t do it.”
And women, just like men, who choose to serve their country, whether in the reserves, the national guard or active duty, face the fact that they might be called on to defend the country.
“You never know when the call’s going to come,” said Evans, who was told when she interviewed for the reserves that its purpose is to provide support in time of war or trouble, and was asked if she would be ready to leave her home at that moment if needed.
“That’s always in the back of your mind — especially since 9/11,” Evans said. “I was ready to do it. It comes with a sacrifice, and it’s a sacrifice for your family as well.”
Petru adds that it’s what she signed up for.
“That’s what we joined the military for — to serve our country, support and defend foreign and domestic, whether or not you agree with it,” she said.
As veterans, both Evans and Petru also enjoy the support of American Legion Post 43 in Naperville, whose purpose, according to Petru, is to keep veterans engaged and ensure they have a voice in Washington, D.C.
“Sometimes there is the misconception that women don’t belong,” Evans said. “But (the Naperville) American Legion is very supportive of women veterans.”