WASHINGTON – It took two tours in Iraq for Shelly Goode-Burgoyne to change her mind about women in combat.
The Army transportation officer feared women weren't strong enough, that they would be more vulnerable to injury or assault if captured. But during her deployments in 2002 and 2004, she saw women thrive in combat and fare no worse in capture than their male counterparts, she said.
Goode-Burgoyne ultimately concluded women should be afforded the same opportunities as men and she cheered as gender barriers in the military came down.
Now, following a contentious U.S. presidential election campaign, Goode-Burgoyne is afraid those hard-fought victories will be reversed under President-elect Donald Trump's administration. The former first lieutenant said she plans to be in Washington on Saturday to join with other minority and rights groups in the largest protest linked to the inauguration – the Women's March on Washington.
"For many people, many women and men who have fought for a long time for things like gay rights in the military, women's rights in the military, reproductive rights and others, they see the incoming administration as a direct threat … turning back those things," said Goode-Burgoyne, who lives overseas where her husband, also an Army officer, is deployed. "There is a powerful, visceral fear that they woke up in a country they don't recognize. I don't think we thought that about other presidents."
In keeping with tradition, military and veterans groups are participating in all aspects of Friday's inauguration, from ceremonial roles to logistical ones — to an inaugural ball hosted by the largest veterans group in the country, the American Legion.
Less traditional is the participation of veterans and some military members in a day-after protest that has been gaining momentum in the buildup to the inauguration. More than 200,000 people have registered for the march in Washington, according to the event's Facebook page, while tens of thousands more signed on to attend solidarity marches across the country. Participants include such celebrities as feminist Gloria Steinem, Katy Perry, Chelsea Handler, Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette, Scarlett Johansson, America Ferrera and Amy Schumer.
The organization Veterans For Peace is formally participating in the march, according to its webpage, while the Service Women's Action Network, which advocates for the rights and protections of female veterans and servicemembers, is putting together a group for the march and several of its members are taking leading roles throughout the country.
"It seems that this most recent presidential election has been a catalyst for many of diverse backgrounds to become concerned that our civil rights, our human rights might be threatened or impacted," said Donna McAleer, a West Point graduate and former military police platoon leader in the 1980s who lost a bid for Congress as a Utah representative in 2012 and again in 2014.
"These are things as veterans we stood up and took an oath to support," said McAleer, who will be taking part in a solidarity march in Park City, along with celebrities and film artists in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. "And that oath that we took as members, as officers, does not have an expiration date even after one takes off the uniform."
During the election campaign, Trump alienated a portion of the population, setting off firestorms with controversial comments about women, immigrants, Muslims and others. He questioned the war hero status of Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war, and challenged the integrity of the father of a slain soldier who stumped for his Democratic political opponent Hillary Clinton. He was caught on tape mocking a disabled journalist and a recording of lewd comments he made about women several years ago went viral and led to several allegations of sexual assault from women who stepped forward, something Trump denied.
"The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender – Queer, Intersex and Asexual], native people, black and brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault," read a description on the event's website.
Like McAleer, former Army Capt. Sue Fulton said she feels the comments she's heard over the past year challenge the constitutional rights she took an oath to defend.
"I am marching because I believe this gathering of people is expressing that we will stand and fight for those freedoms, for the rights guaranteed to all Americans in the Constitution," said Fulton, who, like McAleer, was one of the first women to graduate West Point.
Fulton served at a time when being gay or lesbian was banned from the military and there were "active witch hunts." She helped fight the ban and then the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and has since founded SPART*A, a group for LGBT military members and veterans and their families.
Fulton said she believed rolling back policies that have opened up the military to these communities "would be an incredible distraction" and she doubted the Trump administration would "prioritize a culture war over the very real wars we are fighting." She worried that it could slow progress and pick away at women's advances in military integration.
For military women, Trump's comments go back even further. He told an MSNBC host in 2014 that bringing women into the military "created bedlam" and in 2013 he indicated in a tweet that sexual assault in the military was a direct result of the integration of women.
Gender bias isn't a new issue and despite progress, these problems have been simmering for decades, said Kyleanne Hunter, a former Marine major who flew Cobra attack helicopters and served from 2000 to 2012. Hunter is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Denver, School of International Studies, looking at how women's movements in Europe and the United States have impacted military policies regarding gender.
She said Trump's rhetoric, and his defeat of the first would-be female president, has helped bring those issues to the fore.
"Trump's election is a galvanizing moment – a very big thing that people can react to and mobilize around, but the larger issues have been festering for a few generations now," Hunter said.
She had planned to come to Washington for the march, but she agreed to give the keynote speech at the solidarity march in Oregon instead.
Some female veterans are taking leadership roles in marches across the country, Hunter said. With a long tradition of war veterans leading political change that reaches back to George Washington and the Founding Fathers, she said women who were "recognized as leaders in their military fields" are now picking up the mantle.
"We've run the military gauntlet and are now pushing progress for the rest of the country," Hunter said. "I think there is this idea of veterans leadership that has been valued in the civilian political space since the founding of our country. I am excited that we want to put women veterans into that space."
Fellow former Marine Cobra pilot Jeannette Haynie, a lieutenant colonel, said the gender bias in the military is more difficult to discern these days, but it still exists. She didn't realize it until she became a mother, she said, and saw "how things were stacked differently for women. She did not plan to stop flying but there was so little accommodation made for a work-life balance that she felt she had no choice.
"I am taking my 11-year-old daughter to march with me," Haynie said. "I think it's important for her to grow up questioning what's around her, which I didn't do until I was forced to by my circumstances."
The Service Women's Action Network chief operation officer, Kate Germano, a former Marine lieutenant colonel, said she will have a house full of relatives who are participating.
"I am terribly concerned and hoping the march is a show of force by women so the new administration recognizes we won't roll over," she said.
Many people who serve on boards or active-duty roles were hesitant to voice their concerns in a public forum but still planned to attend, including Kayla Williams, who in May became the first head of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans. She said she would be attending with her children as a private citizen "to show them that people should stand together for what they believe in."
In their description of the event, the march organizers stress that it is not only for women and some veterans have taken heart. Jason Lemieux, a former Marine sergeant who served three combat tours in Iraq between 2001 and 2006, said he plans to march in solidarity with women he served alongside.
Lemieux, who now works as a staff member for a congressman, said he used to share some of the chauvinistic attitudes that he believes have held back women. But he now believes that those assumptions were wrong and are damaging to the military and the society.
"I see this as an extension of what I was doing in the military," he said of his participation in the march. "I think this is part of making a better world…. I think it improves American society and by example, global society."
Hunter said Trump has insulted so many groups that the march is a way for those people who took umbrage to push back and let the president-elect know that "we are here and we are not going to go away.
"You can't ignore us," she said.