Women’s Role in the Military

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --

The month of March is Women’s History Month, dedicated to recognizing and honoring women for their contributions to the fight for justice and equality.

From the famous suffrage movement in the mid to late 1850s, to the continuing battle for equal rights to education, employment and healthcare in many parts of the world, incredible strides have been made in the way of allowing women into more roles that were, in previous years, thought impossible.

In particular, women’s roles in the military have become more prominent throughout the decades.

From the humbled beginnings of being field nurses during major conflicts, these days you can find women in a variety of military career fields. Women now serve alongside men as medics, logisticians, flyers, expediters, security forces, supervisors, subordinates, inspiratory figures and more.

Even in the early stages of the United States of America, women began making significant marks in the history of the country’s military force.

In 1778, Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Continental Army so she could serve in the American Revolutionary War; serving under the name “Robert Shirtliff,” she was assigned duties in a company until a battle injury led to the discovery of her gender. After 17 months of service, she was honorably discharged upon recovery in 1783.

Fast forward 83 years, and more than 400 women would doff disguises and fight with the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

In 1865, Mary Edwards Walker, a medical doctor, volunteered with the Union Army during the Civil War. While attempting to treat wounded soldiers behind enemy lines, she was captured by Confederate forces and taken as a prisoner of war, later to be freed during a prisoner exchange.  To this day she remains the sole female recipient of the Medal of Honor, bestowed to her by President Andrew Johnson.

After nearly 200 years of women secretly serving in our nation’s military, the time finally came when women could proudly show their love for their country.

In 1942, women were officially allowed to serve in the military as part of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs).  Its members served in more than 200 noncombatant positions, to include the Women Air Force Service Pilots, better known as the WASPs, who by their volunteerism and eagerness to operate military aircraft, provided male pilots the opportunity to provide combat power overseas.  They were the first women to fly for the American military, and played a key role in the success of World War II.

Since the beginning, the roles that women have taken on have been instrumental to overcoming many great challenges. We must not forget how far military women have come, and continue to go.