WHITMAN — Pat Tibaudo is not always recognized as a veteran — sometimes even overlooked as such while volunteering during DAV Poppy sales or marching in parades in a VFW uniform. It’s a reason she has a “Woman Veteran” bumper sticker on her car.
It’s not a unique situation, VFW Director of National Security and Foreign Affairs Sarah Maples wrote in an essay in The Atlantic magazine in November 2017.
“Without the uniform, there is no outward indication that these women are veterans, Maples wrote. “Women are often denied recognition for their military accomplishments.”
Far from seeking glory for her own service, Tibaudo is, however, determined that women veterans receive due respect.
She is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Naval Reserve, deployed to war zones three times, including to Spain in a storekeeper unit in the Supply Support Battalion from 1990-91 during Desert Storm (she also was assigned brief excursions into Kuwait). She was deployed to Iraq in 2006 and in Afghanistan detached to an Army unit as an individual augmentee in charge of training local troops and overseeing a women’s barracks — among a few other jobs — and has served as the first, and so far the only, female commander of the Whitman VFW.
She is currently an adjutant with the Whitman post, joining the organization in 1995.
“I volunteered when they needed people for bingo, when they needed people for color guard,” she said.
The Whitman VFW Color Guard ended up being the state color guard as well as the local unit.
“Every weekend I was marching for something,” she said.
Tibaudo said she stays with the post because there are not enough veterans joining and helping with volunteer projects, such as the Voice of Democracy, right now.
“I just have a good feeling every time I’m doing something,” she said.
Tibaudo is in charge of the Whitman VFW’s annual Christmas party for Brockton VA patients and volunteers to pack food for veterans at Patriot Place.
She says there is nothing she would do differently, if she had the chance.
“I have no regrets,” she said. “The men are so used to having women now in the military, that it’s no big deal. … We watch each others’ backs, that’s what it comes down to. We’re there for one purpose — the mission.”
Being overlooked is mostly a civilian blindspot.
She relates a story of a time when, wearing a Navy veteran cap, a woman asked who she borrowed it from, assuming the answer would be a husband or male relative.
“I said, ‘It’s mine,’” she recalled. “How many times have people, even in my uniform, have pushed me to the side and thanked the guys?”
Such difficulties with the veterans’ community are rare, Tibaudo stressed, but they do happen. When she returned from Afghanistan, she was awaiting surgery in Virginia and went to a local VFW with a friend and were kicked out.
“I don’t know if they didn’t believe me or not, but I had to leave,” she recalled. “I showed them my regular military ID.”
But, while that can be frustrating, the Avon native, who now lives in Norwood, always had an interest in serving. Her brother was in the Army. While he was at first adamant that she not join the military, he later changed his mind.
“In the end, he ended up being my biggest supporter,” she said. “It’s my way of giving back.”
She was initially drawn to the Navy Reserves in 1979, giving thought to transferring to the Army after her second deployment, but stayed with the Navy, even as she was attached to an Army unit in Afghanistan a “Sand Squid,” as Army personnel called her. She retired from the Navy as a chief. She was working in civilian life as a storekeeper so the Navy assigned her to supply, later called logistics.
During her military career, Tibaudo earned certification for driving an explosives forklift so she could transport ordnance as supply personnel. She also drove and up-armored Humvee as a lead convoy driver in Iraq on occasion.
“The guys requested me [as a driver], because — one thing about a Humvee, if you take too sharp a turn, it tips over — if you tipped over the gunner’s gone,” she said. “To me, that was precious cargo I was carrying.”
When she joined, she had been divorced with two young children and said the Navy Reserves never saw her status as a single parent a deterrent.
“I just had to make sure that I had somebody, in case I got deployed, that would be responsible for them,” she said.
She has definitely traveled a lot of the globe in 30 years.
“I was one of the lucky ones, I came home,” Tibaudo said, becoming quiet-spoken, as she demurred from going into in detail about her military experiences beyond general job descriptions. “When you sign that piece of paper …” she said, her voice trailing off. She retired from the Navy Reserves in 2010.
She still worked her civilian job as a nursing assistant for the cardiac floor at Brockton Hospital, where she worked for 25 years.