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Milton woman wins Wisconsin Woman Veteran of the Year
Janesville Gazette - 10/8/2018
Oct. 08--MILTON -- If you tell Kim Graff she can't do something, she will try to defy you.
That's how she ended up in the U.S. Marine Corps, she said.
Graff, a 32-year-old Milton resident, was ready to join the Air Force in 2012, when a Marines recruiter told her she was only doing so because it was easy, she said.
So Graff went to a workout with the Marines instead and was "hooked."
The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs named Graff the 2018 Wisconsin Woman Veteran of the Year at the Wisconsin Conference on Veterans Issues in late September.
The award has been given annually since 2008 to honor female veterans who have "compiled a record of superior service as a military service member, a veteran and outstanding member of the community," according to a news release.
The award gave Graff validation that her work as veteran was meaningful. It is difficult to be a woman in the military because there is little positive support for female veterans, she said.
"You always feel like the little kid your big brothers have to play with even though they don't want to," Graff said.
Graff was a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist in the Marines from 2012 to 2016, she said. After leaving the Marines, she joined the Wisconsin National Guard reserves to continue her military career while spending time with her family.
She medically retired from the military this summer.
The Milton mother's military career began two years after her first husband died in a car accident. The accident happened a couple of weeks after she graduated with her bachelors degree from UW-River Falls, Graff said.
Graff needed something to focus on and help her out of a rut, she said. She always wanted to join the military and felt that was the right time.
Her first unit was with the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force in Washington, D.C., where she ran security measures for the White House and large events including the Republican and Democratic national conventions, Graff said.
She went on one deployment in Australia, where she was a public relations and chemical specialist working with foreign militaries, Graff said.
Graff and her now-husband William Graff--a recruiter for the Marines-- moved back to Wisconsin to keep their daughter, Talia, close to her step-siblings, Jadyn and Ryan. Graff now works as a special education aide in the Milton School District.
Graff and William have had difficulties in the family court system involving child placement with her step children, Graff said. Step parents are not granted placement rights for step children when a parent is away on duty, which caused issues for their family when William was called to go away for training for two months.
The couple was dismayed, so Graff started an advocacy group called Protecting Military Families in Wisconsin.
Graff advocates for the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, which would give military family members the right to extend third party privileges to family members during deployment for at least 90 days, Graff said.
She has garnered bipartisan support from state lawmakers for the act, which is currently sitting in the state's Legislative Council Study Committee on Child Placement and Support, Graff said.
Graff has heard from other Wisconsin military families who have gone through similar struggles, she said.
"I think Wisconsin loves its military, I just don't know if they know what the problems are," Graff said. "It is easy for military members to think they don't care."
(c)2018 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)
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