Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie

SPRAGUE, CT —  It took seven years and $50,000, but American Legion Post 85 commissioned what may be the first female combat veteran statue in the entire country.

“We believe this statue is the only one of its kind in the country. We know for sure there’s no other one like this in this state,” Sen. Cathy Osten, who is the Post Commander, said.

The statue was unveiled Monday during a brief ceremony attended by members of the community who helped raise the money for the statue with motorcycle poker runs.

“Veterans are what give us our peace. They give us our freedom. They are what has developed the base of this wonderful country,” Osten, an army veteran, said.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Female veterans gather behind the statue for a photo (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said the statue was “truly special.”

He said he hopes the statue is just the first step to making sure women veterans get the full measure of this country’s respect.

He said the number of female veterans has increased over the years.

About 20% of those serving in U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are female, according to the Defense Department.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are about 2 million female veterans in the United States and Puerto Rico. That’s about 9% of the total veteran population.

Not all of them have seen combat, but that’s changing too.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat roles in 2013. In 2015, two women successfully completed Army Ranger School, leading to a Pentagon decision calling for combat specialties to be opened to women. The following year Army Capt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Connecticut became the first female infantry officer in American history.

Osten pointed out that women have served and fought for this country since the Revolution.

“To recognize we have the freedoms that we do because of veterans is important,” Osten said.

Osten said the single best decision she ever made was to join the Army three days after she turned 18 years old.

“Women served our country with honor and dignity and we need to remember them the same way we remember our men in the military,” Osten said. “This statue is the beginning of correcting that negligence of not recognizing women.”