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David Jones, media arts print lab technician at Santa Fe Community College, fixes the track lighting Wednesday for the Proudly We Served exhibit honoring female veterans. The exhibit opens Thursday.
Ed Williams of Santa Felooks at the Proudly We Served exhibit Wednesday at Santa Fe Community College.
Carlos Balladares, faculty member at Santa Fe Community College, takes a look at the Proudly We Served exhibit Wednesday.
Ed Williams of Santa Fe, left, and Carlos Balladares look at the Proudly We Served exhibit Wednesday.

General Assignment Reporter
David Jones, media arts print lab technician at Santa Fe Community College, fixes the track lighting Wednesday for the Proudly We Served exhibit honoring female veterans. The exhibit opens Thursday.
Ed Williams of Santa Fe, left, and Carlos Balladares look at the Proudly We Served exhibit Wednesday.
Eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer, clothed in the uniform of the U.S. Army, the image of Chaplain Karen Meeker speaks for all military members who want peace and safety.
The inscription under her portrait, painted by New York artist Steve Alpert, says the painting is devoted to “those who pray for a brighter future for all and serve the cause of freedom to make it so.”
It may be the perfect coda to describe the 12 portraits, all of women veterans or active personnel, that make up the exhibition Proudly She Served, which opens with a reception at 4:30 p.m. Thursday — just in time for Veterans Day on Friday.
The women in the portraits represent all branches of the nation’s military services and an array of job duties — from combat helicopter pilots to chefs to sergeants to officers.
One of the subjects was in the national news this week: U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who just won reelection. One of the first women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, her chopper was shot down and she lost her legs and partial use of one arm in the crash.
“Women have long been serving in this country, but because of the norm of the warrior culture, their stories are not told as often as they should be,” James Wysong, dean of Santa Fe Community College’s school of arts, said of the exhibition.
Ed Williams of Santa Felooks at the Proudly We Served exhibit Wednesday at Santa Fe Community College.
The images are digital copies of the original portraits, which are scheduled to start touring the country’s museum circuit early next year. Each portrait has an accompanying text box with information about the woman.
The series did not start off as a series, Alpert said in a phone interview Wednesday. He painted the first of the lot, Dawn Halfaker, as a stand-alone portrait after meeting her through a mutual friend. As Alpert wrote in a blog about the experience on his website, he was taken by Halfaker’s candor, sensitivity and sense of humor and wanted to capture it in his oil on canvas work.
Halfaker was a U.S. Military Academy graduate who had deployed to Iraq, where she served as captain of a military police unit. There, a rocket-propelled grenade shredded her right arm.
In Alpert’s portrait, Halfaker’s eyes seemed to reflect on memories that may not have been pleasant and yet also at things that speak of hope and a full life yet to be lived.
Her eyes and spirit, Alpert said, reflect “internal courage,” a trait clearly seen in the other 11 portraits in the series.
Over the course of some three years, he met and painted the portraits of seven or eight more female veterans, aided by Linda Maloney, a former naval aviator and CEO of Veteran Women Speakers, a speakers’ agency. He also painted three or four of the portraits from photographs provided by the subjects.
His oldest subject was 100-year-old Bernice “Bee” Falk Haydu, who loved to fly and joined the civilian Women Airforce Service Pilot outfit, a U.S. Army Air Forces program that used civilian women in noncombat flight duties during World War II. Though Haydu died in January 2021, when Alpert was just halfway through her portrait, she remained with him in spirit, he said.
“I felt her presence in the studio,” he said. “I felt Bee around me, like she was kind of hovering in the studio for a couple of days.”
To honor her passing, he painted a small, distant aircraft in the air over one of her shoulders to represent “her flying to her next destination.”
Carlos Balladares, faculty member at Santa Fe Community College, takes a look at the Proudly We Served exhibit Wednesday.
Many of the women are smiling in the portraits; some are not, and at least one is looking away from the viewer, displaying a distant sense of pride in her uniform. In many cases, you can’t quite tell what their eyes say about them.
“I like the Mona Lisa moments when you don’t know if this person is happy or not,” Alpert said, adding it leads the viewer to ask, “What are they thinking about?”
He said he hopes the series reminds people that countless women have served in our military branches over the decades.
“Each of these women woke up one morning and went to a recruiting station and signed that piece of paper, not knowing what they might be asked to do and/or experience once in uniform,” he said. “And I call that courage.”
In addition to Alpert’s portraits, the Veterans Legacy Grant Program is showcasing photos and text boxes on seven deceased New Mexico military veterans — all women — interred at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. That project, a collaboration between the college and local military, veteran and business entities, honors the lives and legacies of New Mexico’s deceased veterans by having students research their histories and create a short biography and video about them.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration recently awarded $500,000 to support and expand the program, including placing an emphasis on the role of women in the military.
Steve Martinez, a professor of history at the college and coordinator of the Veterans Legacy Grant Program, said of these deceased heroes, “Many of their voices have been forgotten. It’s our job to make sure their legacy lives on.”
What: Proudly She Served, an exhibition of portraits of women veterans.
Where: Santa Fe Community College, 6401 Richards Ave., main entrance to the administration building. 
When: Opening reception 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10. The exhibition runs through Nov. 22. 
More info: 505-428-1000. Admission is free.
General Assignment Reporter
Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican’s city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.
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