From Left to Right: Meggen Ditmore, Lisa Shawver, and Lisa Zunzanyika

Celebrating Womens History with these Veterans; The First in their Fields

Mar 7, 2024

When reflecting on the pioneering women who ventured into military roles, one might wonder, 'Wasn't that 50 years ago?' Yet, the reality is, not so long ago, these trailblazing women were taking monumental strides in their respective fields. They exemplified the essence of empowerment, resilience, and bravery as they courageously paved the way as the firsts... 


Lisa M. Zunzanyika is a retired Air Force Combat Photojournalist. During her 22 years in service, Lisa traveled the world documenting the military through her portraits. She graduated from the Military Photojournalism Program at Syracuse University, where she gained the title of being the first African American female Military Photojournalist in Air Force history.  

“I never wanted to live up to the stereotypes or the preconceived notions that people had. If you're going to count me out, you're going to count me out because of me, because of my personality, because the decisions I make, the way that I carry myself, but none of these other things that really have any kind of impact on what I'm doing. Whenever you're an other, whatever that other is, that's where you feel the scrutiny and the pressure and it is something…It's something I've lived with. I can't speak, but, for me, I've always lived with it, whether it was I was the only woman or the only Black person, it was always that case.” 


Vanessa Shawver spent 24 years of her life in the military, serving in both the Army and Air Force. Being an Army brat, Vanessa followed in her father’s bootsteps as a commissioned aviator and piloted a Black Hawk helicopter. She became the first female pilot in the “Fighting Cavalry.”  

“I know, especially for me, coming into unit after unit that were mostly male, if you come into the unit and you are on the fringe of the standards, as a female, sort of like hanging onto a ledge. Like if I just get a grip, just my fingertips, somebody's going to step on them and I'm going to drop. But there is that fringe of standards that men exist on and it's okay because they're on this side. But for women, you have to land very solidly within those standards. You cannot scrape by, or you're not worthy. Men kind of get a little bit more leeway, but it was like, ‘We want to make sure that you're supposed to be here.’ You can't just maybe, kind of, fit the bill. You have to be further. So, that's, you know, when I showed up and I always wanted to be able to run faster, to do more push-ups, to do more sit-ups. That was the Army thing because that's the language that men spoke and, if I could do that, then the murmur was a little lower. Because they didn't want to be the guy that said the girl could outrun them.”  


Meggen Ditmore has a long familial history in the military dating back to the Revolutionary War. She enlisted in 1997 with her sights set on something in the medical field, but her aptitude was better suited in mechanics. After persevering over those who wished her to fail, Meggen became the first active-duty female A-10 crew chief in Air Force history.  

“We had two instructors who taught our class and one instructor, I thought, was absolutely amazing. The other instructor liked to try to beat me down and he would beat me down by telling me, in one of the very first interactions I had with him in a one-on-one, as I'm down there at the strut of the A-10 and he says, just randomly to me, that I don't belong there, that I only joined the service to find a husband, and that I wasn't going to be successful… Growing up with the mother that we did, we never had any restrictions put against us. She basically drilled into us, ‘You do what you want to do. You feel comfortable doing it, do what makes you happy.’ So, we didn't have any kind of gender-defining roles or anything like that growing up and I was just totally gobsmacked that this guy said that to me, which lighted a fuse in me that, ‘Guess what, bastard? That's not the truth and I'm going to prove you wrong.’ So, that's where the laser focus came in. I, like I said, I don't know that I was mechanically inclined, so I did find it a struggle, getting through some of that stuff. It didn't come all natural to me. I had to work extra hard to make sure that I was passing the course and that I was going to make it through and be successful.”