West Chester VFW makes history by inducting first female active member

West Chester VFW Post 7696 is pursuing a “recruiting rush” of younger members and has added the first active female inductee ever.

Jen Gross, Jason Marlow and Eric Holter joined the post last month, making it a notable occasion, said post member and Butler County Vet Board President Chuck Weber.

“Number one we got three new members, number two they’re all relatively young as far as vintage military and number three we got a female member, and I thought that was a good representation of our post and its future,” Weber said. “We had two more younger males join in December so we’ve had a recruiting rush of about five people.”

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The post has about 35 active members and probably 100 military men — and now a woman — on the rolls, according to Weber. There is another woman on the rolls, but she is inactive.

Gross, 54, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who served in Mogadishu, Sarajevo and Desert Storm. She said she is humbled.

“Really, honestly when I stand next to people like Chuck and the two guys I was inducted with, I feel like I’m impersonating a combat veteran,” she said. “Because I’m a non-combatant, because I’m a nurse. One of the guys I stood next to has a bronze star, which means he did some stuff. It’s such an honor, and I feel so humbled that they let me stand next to them.”

Being a member of the post is like nothing non-military people can understand, according to Gross, but it is so important because of the camaraderie, the opportunity to swap stories and continue to serve.

“We all belong together regardless what service we were in. We all love to hear someone else’s stories and listen to them,” she said. “And now in the VFW we serve the community still. So we never really stopped serving, we may have hung up our respective uniforms but now we wear the same uniform in the VFW.”

The VFW helps veterans get their military benefits, provides color guards for many community events, has a memorial brick donation program, provides support for a home for military widows and orphans and gives out scholarships, among other things.

Gross loved being a military member so much she recently tried to re-up, even writing a letter to President Donald Trump two weeks ago.

“I thought that they would let me back in, but because I have this pesky little piece of paper that says I’m retired, they said no,” she said. “I was heartbroken, to me it’s like winning the lottery if I could return. I don’t know how to explain it, I just miss it terribly.”

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