MARQUETTE – Kathy Andel has worn green for a lot of her life, although lately it’s green and gold. Andel walked into our interview wearing a Northern Michigan t-shirt that said “We can be the change.”
She was one of the first women to serve in the Army as a licensed practical nurse during the Vietnam era. She signed up to serve in 1970 and by the time she was honorably discharged in 1980, Andel had achieved the rank of Spec. 6, which is the equivalent of a staff sargent.
She started by serving in the Women’s Army Corps, but by the mid-1970’s she was in what she calls the regular Army.
“I served Vietnam, but I did not go to Vietnam because at that time they weren’t taking women in my MOS (military operational specialty code) they were taking men because they could be trained for combat,” Andel said. “Women were trained for non-combat. Women weren’t supposed to be in combat. Now everything has changed, of course.”
She left for basic training for a much different climate than she was accustomed to.
“I left Calumet, where I am from, and it was winter, of course – in February. We got down to Alabama and for me it was hot but women from the south thought it was cold. So if one of us wore a sweater and a coat, we all wore a sweater and a coat. So I was boiling hot.”
She then went to Port Sam Houston in San Antonio Texas. “Even though I was a trained LPN, I had to be trained in the Army medic way of doing things.”
Was stationed in Fort Gorden, Georgia for 2 years. And then Andel reenlisted for Fort Orden California.
“It was on my bucket list since I was a kid. I was born in Fort Ord while my dad was stationed there. And I always wanted to go back because I was just a baby when we moved up to Calumet. But back in the day when I was an LPN in the 60’s I was making $11 a day. and there was no way that I was going to be able to save enough money to get there. So when I did go in the army, I said I wanted to go to Fort Ord and that’s when I got sent to Fort Gorden Georgia.
When she finally got to Fort Ord it was as she expected.
“It was absolutely beautiful, and if I had my way I would be living there now.”
I was there for 15 months and all of my friends were getting orders for Germany and the Ramp Sergeant came in one day to where I was working and he came in singing “na na na na, hey hey, goodbye” and I said ‘Who?’
Thats when he told her she was going to Germany.
“When I first went to Germany, my mother said, ‘Oh, it’s going to be an adventure,’ because my mother’s family came from Germany,” Andel said. “And right before I got on the plane to leave, my mother said, ‘I hope you find a nice German and get married. So I did end up meeting a nice man and we did get married. He was in the German army at the time. I kept extending because I was only supposed to be there for three years. So then, since he was in the German army they let me stay over there.”
While in Germany, Andel was initially stationed at the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Husterhoeh Kaserne, Pirmasens.
“We were the first women to be put into all-male units at that time because they switched over from WAC’s to the regular army. They didn’t know what to do with us, they had no place really for us to stay, and at that time we weren’t issued fatigues so we had to … everything we had was male. We were wearing men’s fatigues, men’s boots, men’s everything,” Andel said.
She stayed at the base for about 18 months until the mobile field hospital where she was stationed moved closer to the French border.
“I was sent to Hessen, Germany where my husband was stationed, which worked out.”
Andel’s career was not limited to caring for military and civilian patients while in Hessen.
“At the end of my career in Germany, I worked in what was called Nuclear Surety Records,” she said. “I was responsible for all the records of anybody who was working around the nuclear weapons up around northern Germany. I had to review all their records and make sure that there was nothing in them that would (mean) that they couldn’t work around the nuclear weapons. If they had any past drug abuse or any kind of mental anything, if I found any of that I’d refer them to our chief and he would go through and talk to them and some got passed through and others got assigned to different units if they weren’t capable of working around the nuclear weapons. But now, everything’s changed because when the Cold War ended a lot of the places in Germany closed.”
When her husband was discharged from the German Army, they couple was able to come back to the U.S., at that time Andel was stationed in San Antonio at the 41st combat hospital.
“Well, when I got there, I was pregnant with my son and they gave me all kinds of grief about being pregnant and staying in (the Army) (But when) I had my daughter in Germany they didn’t give me any hassle at all.”
She said shortly after she returned to the U.S., she chose to leave the military and use the GI bill to go to school for radiography.
The mother of two and grandmother of 3 said she is grateful for the experiences she had while in the military.
“I met some really nice people in the military,: Andel said. “When I was in Germany we went to Amsterdam and Salzburg, Austria and Rome, I have been to Rome twice and Paris. And down to the Octoberfest twice in Germany. I’ve been to a lot of places that most people just dream of going. I’ve been very fortunate in my life and now I get my care through the VA and I get excellent care through the VA. I am just very blessed.”
For the past several decades, Andel has been steadfast volunteer for St. Vincent de Paul, and spent about 14 years on the Fourth of July parade committee, and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. She is also passionate about Northern Michigan University sports, especially football.
“I am very involved with Northern’s football team. I bake for them. And I always go down to Central Lake Orchard and I get apples and bring (them) back for our football team and for our band at Northern, because I just love our band,” Andel said.
“I also bring apples around to V.A. Clinic here and my church and to different people. I call it Apple Patrol, and I just give them out people who have been good to me or have made me happy. And I’m so happy doing it.”
She said football players call her Mama Hans, after her son who is the equipment manager for the team.
And about that shirt – the one that says “We can be the change.” Andel has lived that philosophy all her life.
She said after leaving the army, she moved back up to Calumet. Andel wanted to know when the American Legion meetings were so she can
So finally I went down to the American Legion club room and I asked “When’s the next meeting?” And they said ‘you should join the auxiliary.’ I said, ‘No, I’m a veteran.’”
After several attempts to attend a meeting failed, Andel said she called the American Legion president and said “If you don’t let me join, I will take this to Washington if I have to.” Soon after she was given an application.
But that wasn’t the end.
“The first meeting I went to, some old guy turned around and said ‘Since when do they let women in here?”
She said although perceptions have begun to change, she still runs into some of those preconceived notions in VA clinic waiting rooms.
“We do get overlooked as women veterans. Guys will say to me, ‘Oh, is your husband seeing somebody?’” Andel said. “They assume you are the wife of a veteran and they overlook you as a woman, meaning that you (could also be) a veteran.”
Women do have more opportunities now, she said.
“Things nowadays are so wide open,” Andel said. “Sports are a good example, we didn’t have sports (back then) like we do now in the colleges. And kids have more opportunities as well, with all of these student abroad things.”
And as time goes on, Andel said she will continue pointing discrepancies out. Because if anyone can “be” the change, she can.