GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
At the urging of the National Women’s History Project in 1987, Congress established the month of March as National Women’s History Month. Across the country individuals are encouraged to honor the women who have and continue to make a difference in history.
Throughout the years, the NWHP has selected themes and honorees to highlight everything women are accomplishing in politics, education, civil rights and other causes and events they are involved in or leading. This year’s theme is “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
This month is also about remembering all of the women who have served before, some of whom could not do so legally. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs as of October 2016, there were 2,051,484 female veterans in America. Some of whom were the first that stepped up, accepted the challenge and served.
One woman who accepted the challenge of serving her country before it was legally allowed was Sarah Edmonds. Born in 1841, she served in the American Civil War. In 1861 she disguised herself as a man and joined the U.S. Army and served with the 2nd Volunteers of the U.S. Army as a nurse and Union spy under the alias Frank Thompson.
Another woman who stepped up to serve her country, despite having to be disguised, was Cathay Williams, the first documented African American female to serve in the U.S. Army in 1865. During her career, she served as a Buffalo Soldier. She chose her alias by reversing her given name, serving under the pseudonym William Cathay.
Another individual who helped break barriers for women was U.S. Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander. She joined the Air Force in 1979 and began her career as an instructor for the Northrop T-38 Talon. During her time at the Air Force Test Pilot School, she was selected for the astronaut program by NASA, which she pursued after graduating in 1990.
In the not so distant past, U.S. Army Gen. Ann Dunwoody, former commanding officer of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, set herself apart by becoming the first female four-star general before her retirement in 2012. She was known for revolutionizing the AMC by improving overall efficiency and effectiveness.
These are a few examples of women who stepped up and challenged the stereotypes of their time or went above and beyond what anyone before them had accomplished.
Women have been involved in the military since the Revolutionary War, either behind the scenes or engaged in battle, admittedly in disguise. In 1948 they became a permanent fixture but with restrictions under the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act.
In 1994, the growing demand for equality among enlisted individuals along with the decline in male enlistees caused the Department of Defense to decrease restrictions on how close women could get to the front lines.
In January 2016, former Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter lifted all gender-based restrictions on military service. Allowing women to serve alongside men in any military job while they meet the gender-neutral performance standards and any other requirements. This includes jobs that were previously closed to women, such as infantry, Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALS and Air Force pararescue.
Women used to have to disguise themselves to serve alongside men. Now in 2018, all military jobs are open to women. Thanks to those who came before and those who still fight for equality in this country and others, there is nothing that women cannot accomplish.
By looking at the past, there are lessons where nothing stopped those who wanted to serve their country and help their fellow human beings. It is in this way that women of the military also inspire and showcase this year’s theme, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”