MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. --
Every year during the month of March, we take a pause to recognize the accomplishments and sacrifices women have made throughout history.
In truth, the world would be in a very different place if it were not for the struggles women overcame and the women continuing to work toward a better future.
Our theme for Women’s History Month in 2020, “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future!” revolves around this fact.
It is easy to go about our everyday lives and take advantage of the truly remarkable things that have been brought to us by the women of the past.
In the United States Armed Forces, the meaning of this year’s theme could not be more apparent. The incredible feats of this nation’s women can be traced all the way back to The Revolutionary War.
In 1782, Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man and served for 17 months in George Washington’s army. After being wounded in combat, her gender was discovered and she was discharged. She did eventually receive a pension from the Continental Congress.
After Deborah Sampson’s feat, women continued to find ways to serve in the military, whether it be as nurses, administrators or even as spies during the civil war.
In 1901, the Army Nurses Corps was established, and shortly after, the Navy followed suit by standing up the Navy Nurses Corps in 1908.
Women continued to serve in this capacity until World War II, where more than 400,000 served in noncombat roles.
Despite their noncombat status, 88 were taken as prisoners of war and 16 were killed in action.
With the hard work and undeniable value of the women who had served, in 1948 Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women to serve as permanent members of the military.
American women took this opportunity and ran with it, creating more opportunities to serve and garnering trust to handle greater responsibilities.
During the Vietnam conflict, Elizabeth Barrett became the first female to hold command in a combat zone. The progress did not stop there. In 1991, Congress authorized women to fly in combat missions and in 1993, they authorized women to serve on combat ships.
The momentum built quickly from here, and to be frank, there are so many examples of individual accomplishments it would be impossible to name them all.
However, to highlight just a few, in 1998 Capt. Kathleen McGrath became the first female to command a U.S. Navy Warship.
In 2008, Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female in U.S. history to achieve the rank of four-star General.
Finally, in 2016, Gen. Lori Robinson was the first woman to take charge of a unified combatant command.
Up to this point, women held specialties that were not related to combat; however, this did not stop them from being stationed in combat zones or being placed in situations where their job had to be accomplished under fire.
In January 2016, all roles in the armed forces, including combat roles, were opened up to women. This means we now have females in infantry roles in the Army and Marines and women who are able to graduate the qualifying courses will be able to serve in Special Forces units.
It has been 234 years since Deborah Sampson served in George Washington’s army and women can now follow in her footsteps without the need to hide who they are.
While we ponder on the struggles faced in the past and the hard fought battles to get where we are today, we look ahead.
Women are still a minority in the military; however, every day they serve, every day they push the boundaries and they ensure tomorrow will be a brighter day for the women growing up in today’s world.