The first female commander of a top veteran advocacy organization, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), credits a lifelong love of asking questions and a willingness to try new things with leading her to the new job.
Retired Army reservist Delphine Metcalf-Foster was elected to the role Aug. 1 at the DAV's annual meeting in New Orleans.
She had previously served as the first woman commander of the organization's California chapter and is also the first African-American woman to hold either position.
"People call me and say, 'Tell me, how do you feel about being the first woman commander,' and I say, 'I feel I can continue to do my work,' " Metcalf-Foster said Tuesday in an interview with Military.com. "It's really an honor, and very humbling."
She is the first female leader of the trio of veteran organizations collectively known as "the big three" -- the DAV, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. The Vietnam Veterans of America was led by Army veteran Mary Stout from 1987 to 1991.
The daughter of a "Buffalo Soldier," Metcalf-Foster said she had dismissed the idea of joining the military as a child when she learned she wouldn't be able to ride horses like her father had during his service.
But while she was working as a civilian at age 34 at the now-shuttered Letterman Army Medical Center in California, a female supervisor asked her to consider joining the Reserves.
"She convinced me that I could do it, and she was right," Metcalf-Foster said. "I was the oldest one in my platoon."
Over her next 21 years in service, her Reserve units were based at Letterman, leaving her to serve in uniform and deploy out of the same place she worked as a civilian employee.
Metcalf-Foster, who was injured in combat in 1991 while deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm, said her passion at the DAV lies in helping make sure female veterans get the care they need through the VA.
The only way to do that, she said, is to continue to work with VA leadership and lawmakers to highlight problems as they become apparent.
"When we find out things, we work with the system to bring it to their attention," she said. "If no one brings it to their attention, how can it change? But by working with them, I feel like there can be change."
Metcalf-Foster also plans to continue the organization's push to expand to veterans of all eras a program that compensates family members for caregiving. Currently, the benefit is available only to post-9/11 veterans.
"A lot of people don't realize that there are hundreds of thousands of caregivers caring for veterans in this country," she said. "I want to work to see that the programs offered by the VA are there for anyone ... this is just something that we should do."
Like many veteran service organizations, DAV struggles to recruit new members. Metcalf-Foster hopes a renewed focus on mentorship while continuing to host job fairs and publicize the ways DAV can assist its members will help the organization increase its reach.
"I have the backing and advocacy for my organization, and it makes such a big difference," she said.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.