When Spring Lake Park pulls out the stops in its annual Tower Days parade, riding front and center, with plenty of sweeping waves and smiles, will be Jaimie Bahl.
Bahl has been selected to be the grand marshal in this year’s parade June 7.
Bahl, a particularly fitting choice at this time of year – a bit after Memorial Day and weeks before July 4 – is a proud member of the Spring Lake Park Kraus-Hartig VFW Post No. 6587. She is the VFW Department of Minnesota’s Seventh District incoming senior vice commander, the first woman and current conflict veteran to hold the elected position in Minnesota.
“I’m very honored. Very touched,” Bahl said about being chosen to head the parade.
Bahl is quick to add that she has not served overseas as a combat veteran in the Global War on Terrorism.
Don LaCroix, commander of Kraus-Hartig, suggested Bahl for the grand marshal honor.
“I think Jaimie is a good choice due to her willingness and her passion for taking care of veterans and their families,” LaCroix said in an interview. “She really puts her whole heart into the VFW.”
Seeing the world
Now a Mounds View resident, Bahl, 36, grew up in the Twin Cities. After graduating from Columbia Heights High School in 1994, she worked briefly as a travel agent. At the age of 22, she joined the U.S. Navy in 1998.
“I just wanted to try something different,” she said. “I just wanted to get out and see the world.”
Bahl is the first person in her family to serve in the Navy.
She attended boot camp in Chicago, Ill., and later served for eight-and-a-half years in the U.S. Navy.
Why the Navy? Mainly, because the recruiting agent was accessible, she said.
For more than five-and-a-half years she served aboard the USS Eisenhower Aircraft Carrier out of Norfolk, Va.
Bahl describes the carrier, similar to a floating airport, as a city, with a post office, barber shop and store. While serving aboard the carrier, she worked many 20-hour days. At night, she shared sleeping quarters with 200 service women. But she worked mostly with men. Her main responsibility was working on the flight deck and the catapult from where the planes were launched.
During her other years of service, she worked in the Navy Recruiting Headquarters in Minneapolis. In her last year, she worked in the Reserves at the Naval Operations Support Center also in Minneapolis.
Bahl left the Navy in 2007. She wanted to plant her feet and settle down near her family, she said.
Bahl befriended a group of Vietnam veterans while serving in Norfolk. After hearing their stories, she decided it was time to give back by volunteering through the VFW.
She first hooked up with the Fridley VFW Post in 2006. Past State VFW Commander Stan Kowalski, a member of the Fridley post, encouraged her to run for an office. Bahl was immediately elected to the post junior vice commander position. She has moved up rank in an elected position each year.
In 2010, she transferred to Spring Lake Park’s Kraus-Hartig Post to be closer to home.
As incoming District Seven Senior Vice Commander (there are nine VFW districts in Minnesota), Bahl will encourage new members to join the VFW, work to maintain members and shine a spotlight on the organization, Bahl said. She will work with 26 posts with more than 11,000 members.
Additionally, Bahl for three years in a row has been appointed the VFW State and National Women Veterans’ Chairperson.
The national position involves serving 54 states and departments in the VFW and its millions of members.
“I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it,” Bahl said. “It’s such an honor.”
As national chairperson, she will network with other state chairpersons, focusing on women veteran rights, issues and legislation, VA care and benefits. In July she will attend a national convention in Reno, Nev.
But along with privilege comes responsibilities. And as a woman, Bahl has an uphill battle in addressing certain challenges. Among them are acceptance. When she first wanted to join the VFW, for instance, she was steered toward the women’s auxiliary, she said.
There’s also the trust issue, Bahl said. Bahl likes to compare the male/female dynamic to the old Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dance team and the now popular quote that Astaire was considered a dancing great. But it was Rogers, a woman, who danced with him backwards… and in heels.
“Sometimes it’s hard for the male counterpart to know I can do just as good of a job as they can,” she said.
So what does serving her country mean to Bahl?
“It’s brought me to where I am today,” Bahl said. “Veterans are my passion.”
Bahl now works at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center as a program support assistant in the human resources department.
Next year, she plans to run for VFW district commander.
Bahl said she wishes to thank the city of Spring Lake Park, LaCroix and those involved in selecting her for the honor of grand marshal of the Tower Days parade.
Elyse Kaner is at firstname.lastname@example.org