The California Department of Veterans Affairs will host the 2021 Women Veterans Reception, including the presentations of the annual Trailblazer Awards, in a virtual event October 27, via Zoom.
The event begins at 6 p.m., and will include remarks from CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani MD and Virginia Wimmer, CalVet’s new deputy secretary of Women Veterans Affairs.
Lourdes Tiglao, director of the VA Center for Women Veterans, will present the keynote address.
“Women in our military have long demonstrated courage in times of peril, leadership in the most crucial moments, and the resolve to overcome any obstacle in their paths,” Secretary Imbasciani said. “We at CalVet are privileged to honor these extraordinary women veterans from California who have blazed trails not only for themselves, but for future generations.”
This year’s reception will include two new elements. First, in addition to the six women receiving Trailblazer Awards, numerous others will be recognized as Women Veterans Advocates. Secondly, CalVet will unveil a special CalVet Women Voices project. For more information, or to register for the event, click here.
“This is our second inaugural virtual reception,” Deputy Secretary Wimmer said. “We hope 2022 to be in person. Although we are virtual, this is still a celebration for women veterans who blazed a trail for all veterans. This year also marks the first year that we recognize veteran advocates who support women veterans and their families.”
This year’s Trailblazer Award recipients include:
Tracey Cooper-Harris, Pasadena
A veterinarian technician while in the U.S. Army, Tracey Cooper-Harris blazed trails by fighting a two-front war: defending the country and at the same time advocating for human rights.
She served during both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, caring for the military dogs that protected U.S. soldiers.
And as a member of the LGBTQ community serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” she endured discrimination and blackmail. When she filed complaints – at great personal and career risk – her superiors ignored them. Cooper-Harris left the military in 2003 after serving 13 years honorably. She developed multiple sclerosis and other service-related conditions, and learned that her wife would be denied federal veterans spousal benefits, including VA healthcare or burial together in a military cemetery.
Cooper-Harris took on the system in 2012 for all LGBTQ veterans, filing a lawsuit challenging such discrimination. She succeeded. The court declared sections of Title 38 unconstitutional, determining that no military purpose justified the discrimination against veterans with same-sex spouses. The suit also played a part in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.
Dawn “Dusty” Napier, Hoopa (Humboldt County)
Dawn Napier spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy. She had a decorated career that included a deployment to the Persian Gulf. A member of the Karuk tribe, Napier worked for the federal bureaus of Indian Affairs and Land Management upon retiring from the Navy, and now is the executive director of Klamath Trinity Non-Emergency Transportation in Willow Creek.
Soon after leaving the Navy, Napier also embarked upon advocating for veterans when she joined Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1873 in Eureka. She maintains her Bronze Legacy membership through VFW Post 9561 in Willow Creek, and in June became the second woman and first Native American ever to be sworn in as the VFW’s Department of California State Commander. The VFW has 62,662 members statewide.
Napier also serves on the Women Veterans Leadership Council, and is a member of the Native American Veterans Association, the American Legion, and the VFW’s National Home for Children.
Antwanisha Williamson, Hemet
Williamson built an outstanding record while in the military, and her resume as an advocate for veterans since retiring in 2018 is equally impressive.
Williamson spent 18 years in the Navy, serving aboard the USS Carl Vinson, and earned both Air Warfare and Surface Warfare qualifications.
As a veteran and advocate, she raised funds for women, children, and homeless veterans, and competed in the Ms. Veterans America competition. She continues to aid and advocate for homeless veterans.
Williamson has served on the San Joaquin County Veterans Advisory Commission and is on the NAACP’s Armed Services and Veterans Committee. She organized the recognition of each branch of the military on its anniversary of founding, flying flags on those days in Stockton.
Working toward her doctorate in education at University of the Pacific, Williamson has developed a military feminism theory aimed at helping women thrive in in the military and impacting change in a male-dominated culture. She also holds degrees from Stanford and the University of Phoenix.
RanDee McLain, San Diego
McClain served in Iraq, Kuwait, and Spain during her seven-year Navy career that ended in 2009. Like so many other veterans, she found the return to civilian life to be a very difficult road. That transition sent her on to a career in aiding other veterans as they separated as well.
She earned her undergraduate degree in criminal justice and sociology from San Diego State, followed by her master’s in social work from the University of Southern California, continuing to build on her foundation for helping veterans.
McLain became instrumental in the creation of veterans treatment courts throughout the nation, adding to her resume mental health expertise in aiding veterans. She managed a veterans outreach program in San Diego and orchestrated shelter for 1,000 veterans experiencing homelessness after the pandemic began in 2020.
In 2015, she helped found San Diego’s Operation Dress Code, which aids women to prepare for the transition from military to civilian life by providing the kinds of professional clothing needed after a career in uniform. This year’s event, on October 9, again enjoyed great success.
Celestina Traver, Redding
Traver, who served three years as an Army military policewoman, began working at the Veterans Service Office in Shasta County in 2010, and became that county’s Veterans Service Officer in 2017.
After escaping an abusive marriage, this mother of three went on to earn her master’s in psychology in 2009; she uses her own story to help veterans in Shasta County.
Traver is involved in the Women’s Army Corps Veterans Association, and has served as president of the support committee for the Veterans Homes of California-Redding.
She worked with CalVet to stage the first women veterans barbecue outreach event. She also has been instrumental in developing a partnership with the Redding VA outpatient clinic, which will house a satellite county office. It will enable VSO staff to aid veterans by working with their doctors, nurses, and social workers to provide better overall service and care.
Deborah Brook, Vacaville
Brook, who spent 20 years as an air traffic controller in the Air Force during the Gulf War, dedicated her post-military career helping other veterans.
Upon retirement from the Air Force, Brook became a representative in the Solano County Veterans Services Office, where she worked tirelessly to assist veterans and their dependents in receiving their earned benefits. Brook particularly enjoyed working with women, both encouraging them to consider military careers, and to pursue their benefits after leaving the service.
She spent nine years at the Solano County post before retiring in May. Even so, Brook continues to offer her knowledge, assistance, and advice to veterans.