Operation Desert Storm veteran Deborah Johnson knows the feeling well.

Sitting next to a male veteran, each wearing their military uniforms, it happens time and again.

"People will come up, shake his hand and thank him for his service -- and ignore me," she said.

Women military veterans face many of the same issues their male counterparts face, including receiving the recognition they deserve and making the challenging transition from active duty to civilian status.

The Women Veterans Advisory Committee wants to help, by reaching out to female vets -- and offering support.

The committee, in cooperation with Mercy Hospital's Art for Healing, will host a creative workshop for women veterans from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. May 3 at the Mercy Art and Spirituality Center at Mercy Hospital downtown.

At the workshop, participants will use a combat boot as a creative medium to represent their military past and civilian present and future. A boot, military memorabilia and other items will be available, but participants will certainly want to bring items from their own lives to personalize their boot, organizers said.

Insignia, badges, patches, dog tags and other non-military items may be used. But the final design is ultimately decided by the veteran herself.

"We want to reach out to these women veterans and let them know they are not alone," said Johnson, a member of the committee and president of the California Veterans Assistance Foundation in Bakersfield.

"There are 5,500 women veterans in Kern County -- and we don't know who they are," said committee member and Vietnam-era veteran Diane Baker.

That needs to change, she said.

The workshop, "Walk a Mile in My Boots -- The Journey from There to Here," is free, but reservations are limited to 22.

To register for the boots project, leave a message at 632-5747.

To learn more about the network of outreach and support being formed for women veterans, call 695-3626.