Kathryn “Kat” Gates-Skipper, a 20-year Marine Corps veteran and early supporter of President Donald Trump, whose campaign she served as a veterans advocate, was the featured speaker at the Warren County Republican Party Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner Saturday night at the Westwood Church of Christ in McMinville.
Warren County Republican Party Chairman Ben Nixon introduced Gates-Skipper to the crowd of 200, the largest Warren County Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner crowd in recent memory.
Bishop noted that Gates-Skipper, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps, was “the holder of many military ‘firsts for women,'” and is married to “Army veteran Charles Skipper, who was decorated for his service in Vietnam.”
She and her husband are parents of four children and four grandchildren, Bishop noted.
“In addition to running two businesses, work on the Trump campaign and continuing her activism for veterans, Kat has recently launched her campaign for County Commission of Polk County, Florida,” Bishop added.
Gates-Skipper wowed the crowd with her compelling personal story.
“I consider myself a ‘True Marine, because I was literally born on the shores of Tripoli. I was adopted at 18 hours old, by an Air Force Colonel and his wife. I became part of the Peters’ Air Force family. I became a naturalized citizen, of the United States, at the age of three,” Gates-Skipper said.
Tragedy quickly struck her family.
“Colonel Peters, my Air Force dad, was a pilot who flew all kinds of secret missions. I was told that his last mission happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He died shortly thereafter; I was four years old. I was never told the circumstances. My widowed mother met my second dad, Mack McKenzie, who was a Navy man, and who taught naval aviation at Naval Air Station Millington…now called NAS Memphis,” she noted.
After her family moved to Florida, she graduated from high school and then returned to Tennessee to go to college at what was then called Memphis State, now the University of Memphis. It was there that she found her mission in life.
“When I was growing up, if things were difficult, I would just give up,” she said.
“I lacked the motivation and drive, that one needs to be successful. But one day, a light went off. I made a bet with myself, and I said, ‘If I can make it through a Marine Corps Boot Camp, then I can do anything!’ I survived basic training, thanks to countless letters of encouragement, and a mother who refused to give up on me…I became a United States Marine,” she said.
The year was 1975.
“In the mid-1970s, things were changing for women in the military. As a Marine, I was able to hit the ground running, and as a woman, paved the way for those, who would come behind me.
All we were allowed to do was sit behind a desk, answer phones, type on typewriters, file paperwork, and that’s why we were known as ‘Remington Raiders,’ Gates-Skipper said.
Gates-Skipper then ticked off a number of important “firsts” in her career:
1. The first woman Marine to stay overnight in the field, as part of combat training at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina
2. The first woman Marine to stay overnight aboard a ship, The U.S.S. Tortuga, LSD-46. It was docked at Norfolk, VA. For the first time, men and women were doing joint training exercises.
The Tortuga is still in service today.
3. And proudly, the first enlisted woman Marine during combat operations in Operation Desert Storm, working with the person effects of the casualties on the Marine Corps side of house.
“On February 25 , we lost the most U.S. casualties when an Iraqi SCUD missile struck our U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. troops. I was one of the staff NCO’s in charge of the personal effects of these casualties,” Gates-Skipper said:
Our job was very important – – because we had to make sure that we FOUND all the personal items, as well as RETURNED all the personal items, to the family members, in the BEST condition possible. One time, I helped clean the wallet of a deceased service member. I opened up the wallet and found a picture of the Marine holding his young child. Looking at that picture, the thought came over me that that child will never see his dad again. I had to put that picture out of my head, and continue to restore that blood-stained wallet. I am sharing this with you, to let you know, that our group took the utmost care of these personal items, for our deceased Brothers and Sisters.
Gates-Skipper then described her role as a veterans advocate after her retirement from active duty military.
“I became a Veterans’ Advocate in the summer of 2012 when I joined a non-profit Veterans’ group out of Washington D.C. In 2013, our group went to the White House and delivered a petition of signatures calling on President Obama to bring reform to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, calling for an end to the backlog of Veterans’ disability and compensation claims, and the passage of the VA Accountability Choice Act,” she said:
In 2014, I was part of the “Vets On the Hill – – Boots on the Ground.” When we went to Capitol Hill to meet with elected officials, VA Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, and Speaker of the House John Boehner to further explain and get their support for the VA Accountability Choice Act. The Act was passed and signed by President Obama in August 2014.This Act was especially personal to me because my husband had been on a pending VA backlog for almost 8 years. A combat-wounded Vietnam Veteran, Charles earned a combat infantry badge, a Bronze Star, 2 Purple Hearts and Air Medal, and 2 Vietnamese Silver Stars, during his service. He was finally awarded his disability 2 years ago. – – But not without a fight! I feel like we are one of the lucky ones.
“That is why I continue my quest, to help as many veterans as I possibly can, and continue to fight for our veterans,” Gates-Skipper explained.
“For years, we have seen stories about corruption at the Veterans’ Administration resulting in long wait times, inferior care, and in dozens of cases, death for those who have served our nation. But, yesterday, that changed. President Trump signed the Department of Veterans’ Administration Accountability/ Whistle-blower Protection Act. This new law makes it easier to get rid of VA employees who are not getting the job done, and it expands protection for whistle-blowers who just want to help America’s Veterans to get the care they have earned. We still have a lot to do, but this marks a big milestone making sure that the scandals that have happened at the VA never happen again,” she added.
“What we are asking for now…is fulfillment of our country’s obligation to our fallen and injured service members who will endure the effects of their service for the rest of their lives,” she explained.
Gates-Skipper then told the story of how she came to play an important role in the Trump campaign.
“In 2015, due to my efforts on Veterans’ Issues, I got the attention of candidate Donald Trump’s team and was asked to serve as the Chairwoman of the Florida Veterans for Trump, being personally endorsed by President Trump, himself.Though the Presidential Campaign is over, I continue to serve in an Advisory and Voter Mobilization capacity, as Florida Chairwoman for Veterans,” she noted.
We are asking all Veterans to stand up again for those who CANNOT, and let your voices be heard. We are also asking those who THANK us for our service, to stand up and join us as we fight for our Country’s Future. Please join us with your voice of Support and Say, NOT in OUR country…NOT on MY watch! And together – We will make America safe – and Great Again,” Gates-Skipper concluded.