It's been 70 years since a bill was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman known as the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which officially allowed women to serve as regular, permanent duty service members. As in the Civil Rights Movement, the many stories of heroic accomplishment and the many "firsts" of women veterans remain -- for the most part -- untold.
J'Lyn Furby's story is one.
Born in South Carolina, the oldest of nine, Joshualyn (shorten to "J'Lyn") learned to shoot a gun at an early age -- and use it -- in Cainhoy, the rural outskirts of Charleston. While her family's life revolved around the church, J'Lyn was drawn to academics. Taking challenging course loads with nightly homework, she recalls, "Regardless of how much studying I needed to do, my parents would tell me, 'You're going to church tonight.' And, if it was 11pm when we got home, and if I fell asleep with the lights on trying to study, my parents would fine me from my allowance."
Despite the challenges she faced at home, J'Lyn achieved high grades -- and SAT scores. She was sought after by both colleges and military recruiters towards the end of high school. By this time, her family had moved to Charleston and the high school she attended -- R. B. Stall High School -- was near the Charleston Air Force Base. Her homeroom and American Government teacher Ms. Karen Cabe (now Gibson) inspired her to join the Forensics Team, which she lettered, and where she met other students who encouraged her to join them in the Civil Air Patrol.
Interview with Pres. Candidate Jackson urged by Karyn Greer, as "member of the press" from R.B. Stall High School 's yearbook staff.
Even though she had a scholarship to Atlanta's DeVry College and a letter of recommendation by Senator Strom Thurmond to attend West Point, J'Lyn's parents insisted they couldn't afford for her to go to college. Undaunted, she turned her focus towards enlisting in the military.
J'Lyn's entry level ASVAB test scores were so high, she immediately qualified to be accepted into the Air Force. Although her Air Force recruiter placed her in a two-year holding pattern to guarantee her a selective Logistics career path, things had gotten more stressful with her parents. With an urgent request to go active duty immediately, in whatever opening the Air Force had, on December 15, 1988, J'Lyn began active duty as a Security Forces specialist.
Coming straight out of boot camp and Air Base Ground Defense instruction, J'Lyn found herself assigned, as her first duty station, to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Manzano Mountain -- near the Sandia National Laboratories.
Still in her teens, she was among the first women airmen to serve there -- one of three at the time.
Despite her age and inexperience, J'Lyn was a part of operations that included high security patrols and escorted convoys whose missions' included activities of highest national security. As J'Lyn began to receive recognition for her superior service, she saw a position she wanted to interview for: elite gate guard.
Having received numerous Airman of the Month awards by this time, in spite of her command's initial reluctance due to her short service time, J'Lyn was granted permission to interview for the highly selective position -- and was accepted.
She became the first black woman elite gate guard at Kirtland. Not only did J'Lyn receive this distinguished duty assignment, but she was also offered a dual designation into the Air Force Law Enforcement specialty. With both Security Police and Law Enforcement designations, as an integral part of Kirtland's elite guard detail, J'Lyn would have the honor of working directly with Bush 41 and Air Force One during her assignment at Kirtland.
When granted the opportunity to make a phone call from Air Force One, J'Lyn called her mother, who couldn't believe her daughter would actually be granted such a favor and told J'Lyn she better hang up before she got in trouble.
J'Lyn remembers all of it like it was yesterday. The Gulf War veteran who saw action during and in support of both Desert Storm and Desert Shield, wants to share a message for all veterans that goes beyond her personal story, that goes beyond Veterans Day.
"As vets, we get so stubborn. We'll tell ourselves, 'I don't want to go to the VA.' As someone who has Type II Diabetes, I know how important health and wellness is. Our health is our wealth... we can't sustain anything unless we have our health.
"I want to tell fellow vets there's nothing wrong with going to the VA and getting help. It's important to engage the VA services. The VA and its services changed my life; in some moments, they literally, physically saved my life. I lost 167 pounds, and through the support of the VA, I went back to college. It allowed me to start my business through the VA Vocational Rehabilitation Program as a State of Georgia exempted veteran owned business.
"Regardless of the gaps in the programs, I urge all veterans to engage the VA, and communicate with VA administrators about what you'd like to see, versus being silent, and not doing anything."
J'Lyn shared about the immense support she has received from the VA Women's Wellness Center in Atlanta -- and how, through their support and mentoring, she took on long-standing family issues that led to the discovery of her biological father.
"My life is not perfect, yet" the effervescent veteran confides, "but I'm working on it!"
Her "SoopaFitt" Health Fairs have gotten major sponsors, public officials' support, local media coverage and numerous letters of commendation. She has created American Kinetics, LLC as a public relations marketing firm to gain exposure for this expansive health and wellness initiative. J'Lyn also has an impressive music promotion arm of her business that helps highlight the "SoopaFitt" initiatives and helps promote major artists, particularly in hip hop.
Through her career as a National Artist Manager, J'Lyn has worked with top name artists such as Fabo/D4L, LUDACRIS, Lil John, Moochie Mack pka DJ Soopa Dave (the "Soopa" inspiration for "SoopaFitt"). J'Lyn's love of hip hop goes back to the 90's when she worked with MC Hammer, EnVogue, and Tony! Toni! Tone!. J'Lyn started as an intern at Albuquerque's talk radio while stationed there; it was part of her college coursework.
Yet her own health and wellness issues have left her business dreams financially unfulfilled at present -- and J'Lyn wants other vets to know that she too, seeks support when the challenges seem insurmountable.
"I put what little personal resources I have, and what sponsorship dollars I receive directly back into my company, because it takes everything I have right now to put on these important free health expos for the community. I am looking for any corporations, book publishers, or tv network producers who would like to partner with me to take "SoopaFitt" to the next level of success and be truly sustainable. The diabetes challenge in our community alone is a need that is so great nationwide -- but it is particularly a challenge for us in the South."
With the courage and commitment, she gave her country in the Air Force, J'Lyn Furby is finding a new way forward to serve her fellow Americans. Her ability to leverage her unique veteran experience while embracing her health and wellness challenges -- with the support of the VA -- serves as testimony to the valor of so many of our American veterans, as unsung heroes and sheroes.
A salute to you, J'Lyn Furby -- and a special salute to all veterans during this time of national veteran acknowledgement. May your contributions be known -- and may we contribute in-kind back to you.
For more information about Ms. J'Lyn Furby, contact:
American Kinetics LLC
541 10th ST NW
Atlanta, GA 30318