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1st female combat Marine selected to FL Veterans’ Hall of Fame

Kathryn "Kat" Gates-Skipper (Facebook)

The first female Marine who served in Desert Storm combat operations is about to be inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Kathryn “Kat” Gates-Skipper, 61, of Lake Wales, served in the U.S. Marines from 1975 to 1994. Now, she serves as a veterans’ advocate and is a life member of American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Marine Corps League.

“This is indeed an honor,” wrote Gates-Skipper on her Facebook timeline. “I’m still pinching myself to make sure this is not a dream. I love my home state of Florida. Helping Veterans and others just comes natural. That’s how I was raised.”

She was nominated for the honor by state Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, whose district includes part of Polk County.

“It was my honor and privilege to have had the opportunity to nominate Kathryn ‘Kat’ Gates-Skipper for consideration to the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame,” La Rosa said in a news release. “Simply put, Kat helped pave the way for other women to serve our nation through her outstanding example of bravery, leadership and dedication.”

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A pioneer in her Marine Corps service, she helped train Kuwaiti female soldiers during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

During her career, Gates-Skipper was awarded the Army Achievement Medal, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, SW Asia Service Medal, Navy & Marine Corps Overseas Service Military Ribbon, The Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia), Marine Corps League Distinguished Service Award, the State of Florida Governor’s Veteran Award, the American Legion Veteran of the Year Award and other commendations.

Gates-Skipper told The Ledger that when her son called to congratulate her on the honor, he said, “you are number first again,” referring to all of her famous “firsts.”

But Gates-Skipper said she is just doing the same thing she does every day.

“I am all about veterans. It is natural for me. I was born on a military base, raised in a military family,” she said. All of her immediate family are veterans as well.

Following her military career, she raised awareness of issues affecting the U.S. veteran population. A volunteer for Concerned Veterans of America, she eventually became the group’s Central Florida field service director and helped pave the way for passage of the VA Accountability Act of 2014.

“It just swells my heart with love and joy to have so many people out there that appreciate what I do,” Gates-Skipper said.

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“Having that honor right here in my home state of Florida that I love dearly, I am just so honored and so appreciative.”

She said widows and widowers of veterans reach out to her for help.

“They don’t know where to go or what to do,” she said. “I help direct them to the right place. It makes me feel good that I can help.”

Gates-Skipper spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2017, and worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign team.

The Republican Club of Lakeland congratulated Gates-Skipper on its Facebook page: “We are so proud of her service to our Nation in the United States Marine Corps and continued service advocating for veteran’s issues.”

She has appeared on national news programs, including Fox News Radio, USA Today and the Washington Post.

Gates-Skipper said her mission to help veterans started 18 years ago, while she was helping her husband, Charles Skipper, collect benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. A Vietnam veteran, he had two Purple Hearts.

Mary Walkup of Lake Wales, a Navy veteran who is married to another Navy veteran, said she was “proud to call Kat Skipper my ‘sister in arms.'”

“She is a model for women who have served in the military and who continue to serve their country with the patriotism and integrity of the military woman,” Walkup said. “They could not have picked a better woman to honor. Way to go, Marine. Hooyah!”

Gates-Skipper is pressing forward as an advocate for veterans.

She advocated to get the VA Mission Act passed, an act that gives veterans greater access to health care by going to a civilian doctor instead of waiting 30 days to go to a VA doctor, she said. She said there is supposed to be an extension of the Veteran’s Administration clinic coming to Lakeland by 2024.

“We can build skyscrapers faster than that,” Gates-Skipper said. “All these veterans are put on the back burner, and yet they are the first to go.”

According to a 2017 report from floridavets.org, there are 1,525,400 veterans in Florida. Of these, 1,381,170 are male and 144,229 are female.

Florida has the third largest veteran population in the nation, behind California with 1,681,730 and Texas with 1,584,844.

Two other women have been inducted into the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame:

–Lt. Cmdr. Herlena O’Neal Washington, U.S. Navy, retired, inducted into the Class of 2018.

–Capt. Jeanne Grushinski Rubin, U.S. Navy, retired, inducted into the Class of 2013.

The Hall of Fame is located in Tallahassee. For a list of all inductees, visit floridavets.org/our-veterans/florida-veterans-hall-of-fame.

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© 2019 The Ledger