We’ve come a long way, baby!

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Denise Jones
  • Co-chair, Multi-Cultural Committee
As we wrap-up Women's History Month 2009, let me give you something to think about. Did you know... 

... that Margaret "Captain Molly" Corbin, became the first American woman to receive a military pension for her service in the American Revolution? 

... during the Civil War, women served with the Union and Confederate forces disguised as male soldiers fighting at the front, as laundresses, cooks, and spies? 

... the first women who enlisted in the United States military joined the Navy and Marine Corps in World War I? 

... in World War II approximately 400,000 American military women served stateside and overseas in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and as members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots? 

... women did not receive permanent military status until the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948, signed into law by President Truman on June 12, 1948? 

... during the Korean War era, Army nurses served in-country in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (M.A.S.H.) and general hospitals, while Air Force Nurses supported air evacuation missions and Navy nurses served on nearby hospital ships. 

... that 7,000 American military women served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War? The majority were military nurses, some were wounded and the eight women who died are memorialized on the wall at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. 

... the first woman general was promoted in 1970? President Lyndon B. Johnson, on November 8, 1967, signed Public Law 90-130 which removed the legal ceiling on women's promotions allowing them to be promoted to the general and flag ranks. 

... in the fall of 1976, women enrolled in the military service academies for the first time, 119 entered West Point, 81 went to the U.S. Naval Academy, and 157 enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy? 

... approximately 41,000 American military women deployed for Operation Desert Shield/Storm making it the largest single deployment of military women in U.S. history? These women served in all areas of the operation except direct combat. Two women were prisoners of war and five were killed in action. 

... women have participated in U.S. military operations in Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Bosnia, Croatia, Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti? They were able to deploy in these expanded roles with new risks because the laws banning women flying in combat were repealed in 1991 and those banning women from duty on combat ships were revoked in 1993. 

... in 1998, for the first time, a woman fighter pilot delivered a payload of missiles and laser-guided bombs in combat in the first wave of U.S. strikes against Iraq in Operation Desert Fox? 

... women were among the first to deploy in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched? Army PFC Lori Piestewa is the first servicewoman to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is also the first Native American servicewoman ever to die in battle. 

When reading this timeline of events in military women's history, I noticed something interesting ... in order for women in today's military to enjoy the freedom to pursue any career path we want, there were many laws that needed to be changed in this country to allow us to do that. 

Although women have been serving in the military since the American Revolution, it took 172 years before women were given permanent military status in 1948. It wasn't until 1967 that the ceiling on women's promotions was removed allowing them to be eligible for promotion to the general and flag ranks. Women also were not allowed to enroll in the military service academies until Public Law 94-106 was signed in 1976. Despite the fact that many women in the military have been held as prisoners of war and have died for their country throughout American history, women were banned from serving in any type of combat roles until the 1990s. 

Today military women serve in all jobs and assignments all around the world, although still excluded from direct combat. Women serve in every enlisted rank and in the officer corps. On Nov. 14, 2008, Army Gen. Ann Dunwoody became the first women to achieve four-star rank in the military. 

Women have achieved a great deal to get to where we are in today's military, but there are still many more firsts waiting for women to achieve. When you look back at where military women started, having to disguise as men to serve in the military or serving only in medical or support roles, we can truly say that ... "We have come a long way, baby."