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‘That’s who she is’: How Dorothy Simpson became an advocate for female veterans

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Dorothy Simpson joined the U.S. Air Force in 1963 for the same reason so many others have enlisted in the military over the years. She wanted to make a decent living and get an education.

The oldest of 11 children, Simpson did a year of college but found it was going to be unaffordable for her family.

She joined the Air Force as a statistical clerk in a computer center and spent the next two decades moving all over the world and country (her husband was also in the Air Force). She did one tour of duty.

The plan worked. Simpson, 76, eventually got a doctorate degree in psychology from the University of Denver and worked at universities around the Midwest as a professor and administrator in inclusion and equity.

“I am so proud to have served my country,” she said. “I believe that everybody ought to provide some service to the community of humanity.”

That sense of service came from being part of a large family that worked together. Along with her 10 siblings, Simpson has hundreds of cousins, aunts and uncles. There were 500 people at the last family reunion, “and they were still coming” after it ended, Simpson said with a laugh.

When she retired from the University of Iowa, Simpson created a strategic plan for what she wanted her life to look like. That included continuing to help veterans. She remembered meeting a Korean War veteran and talking about how it seemed women — especially women of color — were invisible as veterans.

Simpson wanted to help change that, so she created the Sister Soldier Network, which celebrates women veterans and works to make Black women veterans more visible. The organization started in 2009 in Iowa and has been in Indiana for about 10 years.

Simpson spends a lot of time talking about spirituality, which is one of the three focus points of the Sister Soldier Network.

“There’s a hole in the soul of many veterans that have served,” she said.

That emphasis on spirituality is something those close to Simpson bring up unprompted.

“That’s who she is,” said Linda Lewis-Everett, an Army veteran and member of the Sister Soldier Network. “When you feel really spiritual, you want to share it.”

Jasmin Pettiford, an Air Force and Army veteran who’s been with the organization for about seven years, said she’s worked with Simpson on spiritual and women’s issues in the past and knows how important that is for women who have been in the military.

“She’s a good example for us not to give up and keep fighting for equal representation,” Pettiford said.

For Simpson, it’s about having a “battle buddy,” which is part of the role she sees the Sister Soldier Network fulfilling as she and other female veterans work to support each other.

“We are not invisible,” she said. “We are phenomenal, visible sister warriors.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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