Andrew Dys

First female commander of Rock Hill VFW a ‘great step for the post’

The new VFW commander in Rock Hill is just 27, is still in school and goes by the name Amber.

Sgt. Amber Clark, Army National Guard, Blackhawk helicopter mechanic and crew chief combat veteran of Iraq and Kosovo, was sworn in this week as the first female commander of Rock Hill’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2889.

It is a post with eight decades of tradition and community service, but never has it been led by a woman or by someone so young.

“All I want to do is serve my community and my country and take care of veterans,” Clark said. “No place does more for veterans than the VFW.”

Post members voted Monday night to elevate Clark, who had been senior vice-commander, to the top spot.

That was quite a different reception than the one she received a couple of years ago, the first time she walked in the door of the mostly male VFW post.

“Ladies auxiliary meets next month,” a few old-timers cracked back then.

But Clark’s service and her all-business demeanor brought her quickly into the fold – where tough guys and gals are honored, and frauds are shown the back door. Members found out she is a full-time Winthrop University student who joined the Army National Guard at 17 while a student at York Comprehensive High School.

She served combat tours in Iraq and then Kosovo, doing what only a few years before had been a man’s job.

“I was accepted as a veteran who had earned the honor to be among veterans at the post,” Clark said. “We all share an experience during wartime. That’s what binds us. That camaraderie.

“We all share something special, and it is important.”

The commander runs the post, overseeing and planning civic functions, outreach, scholarships, meetings and more. The pay is not great.

Actually, it is terrible. There is none – which is fine by Clark.

“I’m here because I love the veterans,” she said. “I am one.”

Berlin “D.J.” Gipson, 24, who like Clark is a member of the student veterans organization at Winthrop, is now second vice commander at the VFW. The Navy chief petty officer second class served in combat in Afghanistan.

“We want to bring in the new, younger veterans,” he said, “while at the same time keeping and honoring the older veterans who made this post – this country – the greatest country in the world.”

VFW members have placed so much faith in Clark because of her leadership skills, Gipson said

“Amber is a combat veteran, a leader,” he said, “and every person here knows that she is someone who – in wartime and at home – gets things done.”

Like many service organizations, VFW Post 2889 – with more than 550 members and auxiliary members – has had a tough time attracting younger members. Clark is one of just a few women post commanders in South Carolina, and she might be the youngest post commander in the state.

The election of a female post commander shows how the VFW is trying to encourage participation by a younger generation of combat veterans, said Betty Hilliard, South Carolina commander of the VFW. Hilliard has been in Clark’s boots – she was the first female state commander after having been one of the first female post commanders in state history.

As more women join the military and more serve in combat missions, Hilliard said, the VFW wants those women in leadership roles.

But changing the perception that “the VFW is a bar where old guys drink,” she said, is tough.

Clark is a perfect example of a younger leadership with experience in the latest round of wars, said Joe Medlin, a VFW member and York County Veterans Service Officer who served in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Amber has already showed that she is a leader,” Medlin said. “Her being chosen as commander is a great step for the post.”

Clark said a strong unit, a team, will make the VFW post strong. But it is a new day in Rock Hill at VFW Post 2889 – the place where combat grunts and officers are all the same. The commander is tough, and a combat vet.

You can call her “Sarge,” but this boss is a woman nobody will ever call “Sir.”