First East Idaho memorial dedicated to female veterans unveiled in Idaho Falls
IDAHO FALLS — A Pocatello sculptor has unveiled a statue to serve as East Idaho’s first memorial dedicated to female veterans.
The statue dedication ceremony was hosted Dec. 17 during a ribbon-cutting and open house for Comprehensive Care Clinics on Valencia Drive in Idaho Falls. The new medical facility where the statue is located specializes in integrated care and was founded by Bingham Healthcare and Fahim Rahim, a Pocatello kidney doctor and entrepreneur.
“In my 15 years of living in Idaho, this was the most exciting moment of my life,” Rahim said of his projects. “It took us two years to get it done, but we made finally it happen.”
Sculpted by Kristol Coker, a Pocatello resident for the past 22 years, the Female Veterans of Idaho Memorial depicts a life-sized female veteran in Army fatigues paying tribute to a fallen soldier memorial, which includes a military-style helmet resting atop a rifle that stands upright behind a set of military-issued boots.
The fallen soldier memorial also includes a set of dog tags hanging from the rifle, which are exact replicas of the tags that 23-year-old Army Sgt. Nicholas A. Gummersall of Pocatello was wearing when he was killed on Aug. 6, 2007, while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The life-sized female statue was inspired by the late Army Spc. Carrie L. French, of Caldwell, who died at the age of 19 on June 5, 2005, also while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“A few years ago, one of our Idaho Hometown Hero medalists was Carrie L. French, who was the first female to die in Idaho in the war in Iraq,” Rahim said. “We were raised by our mom who was a nurse in the Pakistani Army. Well, I got to know Carrie’s mother, and we wanted to honor Carrie’s sacrifice and discussed a memorial in Caldwell. I just couldn’t pull it off there, so my brother and I, and our partners, donated a part of land at Comprehensive Care Clinics in Idaho Falls and put up the funds to build the memorial there.”
Rahim said when he first heard about French’s story, he couldn’t help but think of the time his mother spent in the military and how he wouldn’t be here today had his mother endured the same fate as French.
“(French’s) story totally touched me as my mom was only 19 or 20 when she joined the military,” Rahim said. “She raised two boys and here we are today. Carrie wanted to come back and go to school to become a lawyer. Her dreams were cut short, and those sacrifices cannot be taken lightly.”
As an immigrant to America, Rahim said he understands the value of the freedoms that members of the military, like French and Gummersall, sometimes pay the ultimate price to preserve.
“My perspective is a little different because I am living here in this country by choice for the freedoms that mean so much to us as Americans,” Rahim said. “Sometimes we get used to those freedoms and take things for granted. That’s why I think special memorials like this are important, because they serve as a reminder to never take anything for granted.”
Coker, who works as a sculpting teacher’s assistant at Idaho State University, said she received technical guidance throughout the project from John Bender, a former Marine.
“This was mostly created by John and he left me to physically sculpt the statue,” Coker said. “I basically started with nothing, created a life-sized person out of wax, cast it in bronze and put it all back together.”
The process of creating the statue took a little over four months, Coker said, adding that she received lots of assistance from her husband, ISU art graduate students and Doug Warnock, a sculpting professor at ISU who has been Coker’s mentor for the last 15 years
“(Warnock’s) help and support was simply tremendous,” Coker said. “Also, my husband was a Harrier pilot for the Marine Corps for six years and I served as his spouse. During that time, our squadron lost members and teammates, and a lot of what I am speaking about is that the military does a wonderful job about creating a cohesive team. When members come back they lose that and become isolated. With this piece, I just wanted to remind veterans that there are people here for them.”
In addition to taking inspiration from her husband and colleagues, Coker said she crafted the Female Veterans of Idaho Memorial with the concept of honor in mind — with the idea of veterans also taking the time to thank themselves for serving.
“As a society, we are good about thanking people for their service, having celebrations on Memorial or Veterans Day and are good about trying to express heartfelt thoughts about losing a soldier,” Coker said. “But what we forget too often about is the people who do come back, and I worry sometimes that they don’t honor themselves enough for the job that they did. I wanted to pay tribute to that sense of vulnerability that veterans experience when they return from a tour.”
In addition to the facility in Idaho Falls, Rahim and Bingham Healthcare are in the process of bringing a Comprehensive Care Clinic to Chubbuck, of which Rahim said construction is expected to start in January and could be completed by the end of 2019.
And while he has accomplished much and given to many in Southeast Idaho, he said it will be extremely hard to top the feeling he had when the Female Veterans of Idaho memorial was unveiled last week.
“I’ve done many things in Eastern Idaho, and so far this is the thing that I am most proud of,” Rahim said. “Future generations will stop by here and be able to see the essence of what this country is all about forever.”
Rahim continued, “This is more than just a veterans memorial, this truly reflects the spirit of our country.”