Elaina Wanamaker wants to ensure her voice – along with the voices of all women who serve in the military – is heard.

“Men aren’t the only role models in this world,” Wanamaker, a 28-year-old graduate of Annville-Cleona High School, told LebTown.

Wanamaker has served for 10 years in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Recently, she was elected commander of the Conner-Streicher American Legion Post 559 in Annville.

It’s worth noting that this is the first time the post, in more than a century of community service, has elected a woman to the leadership role.

She was elected commander by post membership at a meeting in February. According to a press release from Post 559, “Commander Wanamaker will focus on Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism, and Child & Youth. Each of these pillars on which the American Legion was founded in 1919 encompasses a variety of programs that benefit our nation’s veterans, its service members, their families, the youth of America, and ordinary citizens.”

Wanamaker said she graduated from high school in 2013, then went to Lebanon Valley College for a year.

“I did undergraduate studies, took the basic classes, and then decided it wasn’t for me,” she recalled. “That’s when I enlisted into the Pennsylvania National Guard and went off to basic training.”

The Annville native ended up working full-time for the Guard and has stuck with it ever since. Currently, she serves as a 42 Alpha, or human resources specialist, and holds the rank of staff sergeant.

“I do a lot of paperwork, to briefly summarize what I do,” Wanamaker said with a chuckle. “There’s a lot that comes with the job. I’m dealing with soldiers every day, dealing with pay issues. … We are the problem solvers, basically. Between that, I get to attend leader and advanced leader courses.”

She deployed to the Middle East with the 28th Infantry Division for nine months in 2018, helping to maintain an American presence in Kuwait as part of Operation Spartan Field. “That’s also where I met my husband,” she said.

‘Runs through the family’

Wanamaker joined the American Legion after returning to the States.

It’s a family tradition, she noted.

“My grandfather was a big part of the American Legion. My uncle is still a big part of the American Legion,” she said. “It kind of runs through the family.”

Commanders are typically elected to one- or two-year terms, Wanamaker said. “Or longer, if they keep voting me in.”

It’s worth noting that she is the first woman to hold the post, she said.

“I think it’s important to have a female role in this,” she said. “Times have changed, obviously. It’s important not only to have someone young, but a female. It’s always been an organization of men – older men. We have to bump things up a bit. I wanted to make a difference, make a change. It’s not just a place for older men any more.”

People often assume the Legion is for “people who have done their time,” but Wanamaker hopes she can inspire people to serve.

“I’m just really focused on change. Bringing in new people, younger faces. … And maybe inspire people to join the Guard or enlist in some other service.”

She urged people in the community to “come visit our legion and see what we’re about.” The post, she explained, is a good place to “meet people, socialize, and come together with the community.”

Wanamaker said she hopes to expand post membership – not just veterans, she said, but Sons of the American Legion, a subgroup that caters to the sons and grandsons of veterans, and the Home Association, which does not require prior military service.

“Our doors are open to everybody,” she said. “We want to see more people honoring the veterans in our local communities.”

The post is “very involved with the community,” she added. “We’re constantly doing events.”

‘Keep an open mind’

Being female is not the focus of Wanamaker’s service as post commander, but she said it’s important to acknowledge.

“It’s hard as a woman in the service sometimes,” she explained. “When you have to stick up for yourself … that’s the biggest thing, voicing what is right and standing behind it, but you can come off as aggressive. ‘Sassy’ is probably a better word than what I want to say. There are times when personality conflicts have come into play, because we still kind of live in a man’s world. When I go to these meetings, I’m the only woman.

“I can’t allow them to influence me in a different direction just because they don’t agree with me,” she added. “Not everyone agrees that females should be in leadership roles. But we look at things differently, and we can contribute. People need to keep an open mind.”

It’s important for women to be in leadership roles, both in the military and organizations such as the American Legion, Wanamaker said.

“It’s important because we have a voice that needs to be heard,” she said. “When you put a female in a leadership role, they’re in that role because they have passion, they have drive, they want to change things for the better.”

Professional basketball player Caitlin Clark “made a big difference in women’s sports,” Wanamaker said. “She never won a big championship, but she changed women’s sports forever. That’s the impact I want to have in my community – as a female in the legion, a female in the military. … I want to remembered for sticking up for people … and creating a positive, healthy environment.”

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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