Words by Bridget Foster.
March is Women’s History Month so it’s only fitting that we take time to pay homage to the many servicewomen who are making strides and creating history in America’s armed forces. Women have played pivotal roles in fighting for this country since the days of the Civil War and many are making their mark in the male-dominated world of the military.
With the recent lifting of the ban on women in combat, one would think that women have not been seeing action on the front lines. Previous policies had dictated that women could only be “attached” to a combat unit and therefore, only serve in supporting roles. However, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have forever changed that scenario, so basically, policy is just catching up with reality. Our female soldiers have walked into enemy fire while on police patrol, encountered IEDs while driving in convoys and shot enemy combatants while serving as gunners on vehicles; many have received medals for their acts of valor during enemy engagement. The number of women in command of all-male units has also seen a significant increase.
Leading the Way. As the Marine Corps and Army find ways to formally incorporate females into previously closed combat roles, servicewomen are volunteering to step up to the plate to lead the way for others. Based on published reports, as of December 2013, thirteen women had successfully completed the Marines’ rigorous enlisted infantry training course. Twenty female officers had volunteered for and attempted the more grueling Marine Infantry Officer course in preparation for female leadership when women are officially assigned to combat units. It’s interesting to note here that the Marine Corps is using the results from these women’s efforts to determine IF combat roles should be opened and has not assigned infantry status to those who have passed the standards.
Since there are so many female “firsts”, this article will focus on recent history-making women who are forcing a rewrite of record books. Mind you, these women obtained recognition and position based on their merits and not their gender:
- March 6, 2014: Brig. Gen. Peggy Combs became the first female commanding general of the U.S. Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox.
- March 4, 2014: Command Sgt. Maj. Cynthia B. Howard was installed as the 12th Transportation Corps first female regimental command sergeant major.
- December 2013: Vice Admiral Michelle Howard received her fourth star and took command as the Navy’s first female Vice Chief of Naval Operations. She is also the first African American to hold this position and she was the first African American woman to command a Navy warship at sea, the USS Rushmore.
- June 2012: Janet Wolfenbarger, US Air Force, became only the second woman to attain the rank of four-star General. Gen. Wolfenbarger is also a member of the first Air Force Academy class to admit women (1976).
- March 2011: Major Gen. Margaret Woodward became the first woman to command a U.S. combat air campaign when she organized the 17th Air Force’s airstrike against Libya in Operation Odyssey Dawn.
- 2010: Army Sgt. Sherri Gallagher bested her mostly male competition to be named the Military Marksmanship Association’s Army Soldier of the Year.
- November 2008: Anne E. Dunwoody earned the distinct honor of becoming the very first woman to achieve the rank of four-star Army general; Gen. Dunwoody (retired) was also the first female battalion commander in the 82nd Airborne Division.
In November of 2013, the Army dedicated its first female warrior statute in honor of the women who have served in the Army for the past two decades. It is located at the U.S. Army Women’s Museum in Fort Lee, VA and is a life-sized female soldier carrying a weapon and wearing body armor as well as other equipment used during training and real-world deployments. The statue represents active duty soldiers as well as those serving in the Army Reserve and National Guard.
March 25, 2014 will be National Medal of Honor Day. Only one woman has ever received this prestigious award: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker for her service as a field surgeon during the Civil War. Though her medal was rescinded, along with over 900 others when the standard was changed to “actual combat with an enemy”, she refused to return hers, wearing it every day til the day she died in 1919.
Warrior Lodge salutes all the women in uniform who have served and are serving their country in all capacities! Your service is much appreciated.