Sandy Garcia grew up an "Air Force brat," so it was no real surprise when she began looking into joining the Women's Army Corps (WAC) as she neared the end of high school in 1976. "The military seemed like the place to go to get an education and a career," she said.
That August, she made the trip to Ft. McClellan in Anniston, Alabama, for basic training. Garcia, a working leader at the North Berwick Facility in their Repair Operations business and a 27-year Pratt & Whitney employee, said they were told their class would be the last WAC class ever to go through training there.
The WAC was created in 1942 as America went to war. Women served in just about every noncombat role available. About 150,000 women eventually served during World War II. Gen. Douglas MacArthur called the WACs "my best soldiers," adding that they worked harder, complained less and were better disciplined than men.
"Basic training was two months," Garcia said. "It prepared us to be soldiers. We learned marching drills, how to fire an M16 rifle and we got to fly in a Huey helicopter. We learned how to conduct ourselves as soldiers, but also how to be young women. Our drill sergeants didn't yell at us, but they did get the point across that we were there for a reason – to prepare to become soldiers." Garcia came out of basic training as a private first class.
Following additional training at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Garcia was assigned to the 66th Maintenance Company at an Army facility in Kitzingen, Germany. "I received an all-around education there," she said. "I drove trucks, ran a motor pool, did office work."
While women in today's Army are serving on the front lines next to men, and occupy high-ranking positions, Garcia said that, even in the 1970s, she was given every opportunity to advance. "Whether it was in the scrap yard tearing down old vehicles to salvage parts, operating a 20-ton crane, working on the transmission assembly line, running the tool room, or even going to sergeant school, I was never held back," she said. "The guys treated me like every other soldier there, trying to do a job."
Garcia met her husband Felipe in the military, where he also served. The WAC disbanded in 1978 and when she was honorably discharged in 1979 (to raise a family), she was a specialist 4 in the U.S. Army.
"Serving as a WAC helped me grow up," Garcia said. "It taught me independence, discipline, dedication and teamwork, things I've carried forward to my time at Pratt & Whitney. I learned how to finish what you start and to be a go-getter. My time in the service effected everything in my life. It's always in the back of my head. I had wonderful opportunities, the chance to travel, make friends who I'm still in touch with and see the world. It was a great time and I learned a lot from it."
As America celebrates Veterans Day, Garcia reflected on what the holiday means to her. "It means freedom and patriotism," she said. "It's our chance to say thank you to everyone who has served or will serve. I'm very proud of what I accomplished."