The Army represented opportunity for Retired Lt. Col. Joyce Law.
“There were opportunities for women and especially minorities at the time, the Army in particular as opposed to other branches,” said Law, who marks the 50th anniversary of joining the military this year.
After graduating Aquinas High School in 1972, Law attended Augusta Technical College, where she studied electronics and found herself surrounded by Army veterans and retirees who told her about what to expect in military life.
“They taught me how to eat,” she said.
They advised her of the benefits of a satiating breakfast such as oatmeal instead of sugary cereals, and they told her to take advantage of the United States Armed Forces Institute; otherwise known as “Foxhole University.”
“It was a correspondence course,” she said. “You were always making great use of time. You could teach yourself additional skills; the skills I taught myself or learned on active duty have served me very well.”
In Law’s 34 years in the military, she broke many barriers and participated in areas she never could have had she stayed in Augusta.
She enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps during the Vietnam War, which she called a pivotal time in history — not just in world history but in her personal history as well. She took part in Operation New Life in 1975 after the fall of Saigon.
The operation involved the evacuation of tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees including orphans to Guam.
“That operation – Operation New Life — resulted in the development of the Department of Defense Humanitarian Award which is issued to military and civilians,” she said. “Philosophically for me, it set me on a spiritual journey — having seen the results of war – to becoming a Buddhist.”
During her time at Fort Shafter in Honolulu, she was recruited by the Hawaiian National Guard.
“They had no women officers (at the time), and I was the third woman commissioned in the Hawaiian National Guard and the first African American woman,” she said.
Soon after Hawaii, she returned to Augusta for a stint and was accepted into the Georgia National Guard as the first African American woman commissioned as a non-medical officer.
Many of Law’s roles in the Army led her on a humanitarian tract.
During the Gulf War, she was shipping bombs when she was recommended to be the transportation officer in a new medical brigade that was being formed. She called it an answer to her prayers.
“I could remain in the military work in a humanitarian phase. It was very important to me,” she said.
Over her career, she was trained at the United Nations in military and humanitarian operations. She worked in race relations, conflict resolution and cultural understanding.
Not only were there professional markers she achieved during her career, but she made many lasting friendships she cherishes to this day; among them are her friendship with Joyce Walker who was her roommate during her Advanced Individual Training at Fort Eisenhower and part of her Officer Candidate School class at Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning.)
After she retired, she took part in the Troops to Teachers program and taught special education in the Augusta area.
Now she devotes herself to history as well as veteran causes.
She works to ensure that African Americans who served in the military have some type of markers on their headstones. She’s also completing paperwork to have American Legion Post 505 placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It opened in 1947. The post was chartered when the military was not desegregated,” she said.
The post had quite a group of illustrious members including Augusta native Henry Cabot Lodge Bohler who was an original Tuskegee Airman and a charter member of the post.
Law said Augusta was home to five original Tuskegee Airmen as well as Frank Fong who was born in Augusta and was the first Asian American commissioned officer to serve as a pilot in the Air Force.
She would also like to see some type of memorial or recognition at Fort Eisenhower to 325th (Colored) Field Signal Battalion, 92nd Division “Buffaloes” who served during World War I.
“They were some of the last to return from World War I and they didn’t receive the fanfare,” she said.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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