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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Groton woman who served as part of Operation Desert Storm among those marching in National Memorial Day Parade

    Thena Cranfill, 53, of Groton, was among the 100 or so Desert Storm veterans to march Monday, May 28, 2018, in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Thena Cranfill)

    It was a reunion for her unit, the Army's 477th Medical Company, which provided care and medical transport to the sick and injured as part of Operation Desert Storm, several summers ago that reconnected Thena Cranfill with her "military identity."

    Cranfill, 53, of Groton, had felt disengaged from her military service, in large part because she hadn't been able to find or connect with vets who shared her unique experience of serving in the "short but intense" conflict. The reunion helped to change that and encouraged her to become more involved in the veteran community.

    So on Monday, she marched with about 100 or so Desert Storm vets from across the country in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. Afterward, she and others went to Arlington National Cemetery, where they laid wreaths on the graves of fellow Desert Storm vets.

    This group of vets is also marking a national memorial being built in their honor. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing a National Desert Storm War Memorial, and last year, President Donald Trump authorized the memorial to be built in an area close to the National Mall.

    Two sites are under consideration, and the preferred site of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association is at the corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, close to both the Vietnam and Lincoln memorials. A final decision is expected by late June. The project is expected to cost $25 million, of which $1.6 million has been raised so far.

    Cranfill was in the Army reserves for about seven years, and then practically overnight she went from a stay-at-home mom to soldier when her unit was activated as part of Operation Desert Storm. While her male peers were met with a "go get 'em" attitude, when people found out she would be deploying to Saudi Arabia, they'd often tell her, "I'm so sorry."

    "It wasn't the same kind of respect," Cranfill said during a recent interview.

    She spent about six months in Saudi Arabia in 1991 as a corporal with the Army's 477th Medical Company, based at King Khalid Military Compound, which was about 90 miles from the Iraq border and 150 miles from Kuwait. The unit's main mission was to transport and to perform en route medical treatment of the sick and injured between various hospitals and a trauma and triage center.

    Cranfill was 25 at the time, and while she emphasizes that what she saw wasn't nearly as bad as what others saw, the experience still affects her today. In total, she spent about nine years in the reserves.

    She put the experience behind her for many years. Eventually, she found a Facebook group for women who'd served as part of Operation Desert Storm, and that allowed her to engage with those whose military experience was similar to hers. Then came the reunion and a 22k hike in Glastonbury to raise awareness about the roughly 22 vets who commit suicide each day. And then Monday's march. As for what's next, "I just want to keep giving back to the veteran community," Cranfill said.

    In this 1991 photo, Thena Cranfill, who served with the Army's 477th Medical Company during Operation Desert Storm, sits in back of an ambulance in Saudi Arabia, where she was stationed for about six months. The unit was responsible for the care and transportation of the sick and injured. Cranfill was among Desert Storm vets who marched in Washington D.C., on Monday, May 28, 2018, as part of the National Memorial Day Parade. (Photo courtesy of Thena Cranfill)

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