The past 50 years has seen a great many firsts for women in the U.S. Military, with many more barriers and ceilings to be pushed through and eclipsed. All Services, except the Marine Corps, have promoted a woman to 4-Stars, with the Coast Guard being the first of the Services to have a female Service Chief, Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan.
Since this nation’s infancy, women have played vital roles in shaping this nation and the U.S. military. During this month, we ask for a moment to reflect upon the contributions women have made and celebrate their many accomplishments.
At the infancy of this nation, though not able to openly serve in the US Military, numerous women served on the battlefield, in supporting roles, like carrying water. During the Revolutionary
War, inspired by different combat actions of these water bearers, they became a composite folk hero, infamously referred to as “Molly Pitcher”. Some, like Margaret Corbin and Deborah Sampson served as soldiers in the Continental Army, on the front lines, by disguising themselves as men.
Over the next 240 years, civil and equal rights for women opened the doors and expanded opportunities for women in the military. WWI, would be the first time women (who still could not vote), were allowed to serve openly in the U.S. Military. The Navy enlisted approximately 12,000
“Yeomanettes”, to fill non-combatant personnel gaps. WWII saw more of the same roles for women, but was the first time enlisted women served in all U.S. military branches.
During the Korean War positive change continued, when the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act officially allowed women to serve as full and permanent members of the U.S. military. Not truly a full equality statute, it also limited women to 2% for each service; they could not command men; nor serve in combat roles; and required automatic discharge for pregnancy. This 2% limitation was finally repealed in 1967, during the Vietnam War, along with breaking the promotion glass ceiling, by allowing women to be promoted to General and Flag Officer ranks. The first women flag and general officers of the Sea Services:
- 1972: USN, Rear Admiral Alene B. Duerk, NC
- 1978: USMC, Brigadier General Margaret A. Brewer
- 2000: USCG, Rear Admiral Vivien S. Crea
The next major battlefront for equality was to open all jobs to women, including combat arms. During the Gulf War, more than 40,000 women served in combat zones, although still not able to serve in direct combat. Inching closer in 1994, all positions, except for direct ground combat were opened to women. In 2015, all restrictions to women in combat were finally lifted, as well.
Women have served this nation’s military, officially and unofficially, since its humble beginnings. Their service and contributions remain an essential element of this nation’s success. The National Naval Officers Association, Inc. proudly salutes the military service and sacrifice of these outstanding and pioneering women.