Sara Garcia

This 2014 photo shows Sara Garcia, left, with Jan Miller and Barbara Beck at American Legion Baker-Merrill Post 9 in Ogden.

SOUTH OGDEN — When Sara Garcia was a senior at Ben Lomond High School in 1964, she had an epiphany — a vision of what she wanted to do with her life.

It was quite a bit different from that of your average 17-year-old high school female, especially in the mid-1960s.

“I can still remember it quite clearly,” Garcia says today. “I was a senior and I just decided I wanted to join the military. Hill Air Force Base was always a big deal around here and because of that, I thought, ‘Well, the Air Force is as good a choice as any.’”

With her mind made up, she informed her parents of what she wanted to do after high school. They probed her, trying to judge the level of seriousness behind the notion.

“They asked me if I was sure if that was what I wanted to do,” Garcia said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure.’”

Garcia was soon visiting with a recruiter from the Air Force. Because her parents wanted her around one last Christmas, she held off joining until after the holiday. But in January 1965, she was in.

She trained at Lacklund Air Force Base in San Antonio, then was stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. She worked for the 22nd Bomb Wing, an outfit that was responsible for deploying the B-52 bombers and KC-135 refueling aircraft that were heavily used by the United States during the Vietnam War. After March, she was stationed at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.

By the time her initial four-year run in the Air Force was over, her goals had changed. She was honorably discharged from the service and ultimately moved back to California, earning a master’s degree in Speech Pathology. She ended up teaching grades K-8 until 2002 and then moved back to Utah.

“My time in the Air Force was some of the best of my life,” she said. “I loved it. Sometimes I regret getting out because I think maybe I would have liked to make a career of it, but I loved teaching too.”

After she retired from teaching and moved back to Utah, her focus again shifted to the military, joining Ogden’s American Legion Baker-Merrill Post 9 in 2006.

Housed in a 1,500-square-foot building on west 24th Street, the post turned 100 years old last year. It is the third oldest continuously active American Legion organization in Utah. Posts throughout the state were chartered in ascending order and there are only two posts in Utah older than the Ogden Legion: Post 2 and Post 3 in Nephi and Price, respectively.

In 2014, after some 94 years of existence, Garcia became part of the post’s first female leadership group, along with commanders Barbara Beck and Jan Miller.

“We were all pretty proud of that,” Garcia said. “We knew it was historical. Ninety something years and we were the first. That was pretty special, especially because it was just like any other election. We had an open vote and that was it.”

Garcia said her year in the legion leadership was ultra-rewarding. And for anyone who thinks she might have faced some resistance from the mostly male membership, she said that simply wasn’t the case.

“A veteran is a veteran,” she said. “In the American Legion, we all treat each other like family and when we were commanders, it was the same thing.”

Post member Terry Schow, a Vietnam veteran and former executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, said during her tenure, Garcia’s leadership team drove a host of initiatives, from community clean-up projects to supporting veteran funeral services.

“She’s just a super woman,” Schow said. “And the reason she’s so highly regarded is because she’s a can-do person. To survive, every American Legion post has to have what I call the ‘sparkplugs’ — that nucleus that just keeps things running. And she’s definitely that. She’s the kind of person that never seeks out recognition, but we all know how valuable she is to our post.”

Garcia said the camaraderie afforded by the Legion is similar to what she felt during her time in the Air Force. As Schow said, she’s reluctant of the limelight, but she said she would love to serve as an example to young women who may be thinking about a career in the military.

While the number of women in the military has grown exponentially since Garcia joined in 1965, the female population has stagnated some in recent years. According to a 2020 report from the U.S Government Accountability Office, there have been only slight increases in the overall percentage of female active-duty service members during the last 15 years. According to the report, women made up 15.1% of the U.S. military’s active-duty force in 2004. By 2018, the number was 16.5%.

The GAO report recommended that the military should “develop a plan, with clearly defined goals, performance measures, and timeframes, to guide and monitor the Air Force’s female active-duty service member recruitment and retention efforts.”

“I would just encourage young women to serve their country with honor and pride,” Garcia said. “We need more of them. It’s just something special and something you’re proud of. The friendships you make are just amazing. I’ve been out for more than 50 years and I still talk to some of my friends from the Air Force. It’s special and I think more women should experience it.”

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