Women Continually Make History in the U.S. Military

Women have served with great honor and valor in defense of our nation since the Revolutionary War in 1775.  Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man to fight in the Continental Army, and Mary Ludwig Hays ("Molly Pitcher") brought water to soldiers on the battlefield.  During World War I women served as nurses, bilingual telephone operators, stenographers, and clerks.  During World War II hundreds of thousands of women served the war effort at home and abroad, performing a variety of jobs in intelligence, supply, medicine, communications, and administration.

Women also flew American military planes as couriers, test pilots, transporters, and anti-aircraft artillery trainers.  The contributions of these valiant women convinced Congressional leaders to pass the 1948 Women's Armed Services Act granting women status in the U.S. military.  Opportunities for women continued to increase during the Cold War era with the opening of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Chaplain Corps, Civil Engineer Corps, and the service academies.

By the 1990s women commanded ships, directed bases, and flew jets for the U.S. military.  In 1993 Congress repealed the combat exclusion law.  That same year Sheila Widnall became the first female Secretary of the Air Force and the first woman to lead a U.S. military branch of the Department of Defense.  Today women constitute 15 percent of the total active duty force and make vital contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan and other overseas contingency operations.

In 2010 the Navy announced submarine positions were opening to women for the first time.  Female service members assist with humanitarian relief efforts in countries affected by earthquakes, flooding, famine, and other natural disasters.  As of late 2010 there were 47 female Generals and 23 female Admirals in the U.S. military.  General Ann E. Dunwoody , U.S. Army, cracked the senior officer brass ceiling when she became the military's first female four-star General in 2008.  She served as the Commanding General of the Army Materiel command, the culmination of more than 30 years of service, until her retirement in August 2012.   Air Force General Janet C. Wolfenbarger, the Air Force's first female four-star, serves as Commander, Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.  Army Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horoho, the first nurse and first woman appointed, became the Army's 43rd Surgeon General in a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.  And the United States Navy promoted Michelle Janine Howard to the rank of four-star admiral on July 1, 2014, making her the first woman to attain the rank of Admiral in the Navy's 238-year history.

History was again made by women in the military on August 21, 2015, as CAPT Kristen Griest  and 1st LT Shaye Haver became the first females to earn the prestigious black and gold Ranger tab of the U.S. Army.

Efforts continue for the services and U.S. Special Operations Command to meet a January 1, 2016 deadline by which all military positions and occupations will be open to women, said a senior Pentagon official at the Officer Women Leadership Symposium on April 5, 2015.


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