Central Texas Heroes: Kathy Isham

WACO, Texas (KWTX) One Central Texas woman had a front row seat to a time of great change in the U.S. Army.

Women were being integrated into traditional units with men in the 1970s.

And veteran Kathy Isham explained how she became a part of that shift herself.

"I grew up in Montana, was born in Alaska, but I knew I didn't want to stay there and to me joining the Army was a chance to see the world," Isham told us.

And that's exactly what Isham did when she joined the Army in 1974 and served several tours in Germany.

She started out in recreation services.

Isham said, "we did all kinds of athletic programs for the troops and the family members, and it it really is what held the communities together."

But she was serving at a turning point in the Army's history as the Women's Army Corps dating back to World War II was eliminated.

"When I first went to Germany they still had the WAC units. So women, when they would get there, would be assigned to a WAC unit. But that was phased out. And in '76 the WAC corps disappeared. Women became full members of regular units," Isham said.

Isham attended the Equal Opportunity Management School and made sure new rules were enforced.

"The services are really dedicated to helping soldiers get along, to integrate races and women into units so we would do a lot of classes, I would do a lot of site visits," she said.

But not everyone was accepting of change.

She remembers one visit in particular.

"As soon as I left, the sergeant major called them in, and wanted to know what they were talking to me about. Well that's not the way we get rid of our problems, you don't want to suppress them, you want to deal with them," Isham said.

And she says as a woman her hard work gained the respect of her peers.

"I always thought it was my job to be a professional, for other soldiers to see me as physically fit," she said, "physical fitness is such a main part of being seen as someone, maybe equal to someone else."

Now she says there are continuing challenges for women in the armed services.

"Even today you will see that transition as women go into combat arms, so it's a slow transition," Isham told us.

She retired in 1994 and went to work for the VA learning how to process veterans claims.

Now she uses those skills to volunteer with the McLennan County Veterans Service Office.

And she wants men and women who've served to get the benefits to which they're entitled.

Isham said, "a lot of times especially for women, you don't know they're a veteran. Men a lot of times will wear their hat, they'll wear the shirt. But women you can't tell. So I encourage everyone to come forward, be recognized for your service, so we can help you."