Women’s History in Military Service to the Country

There are many historical accounts of women warriors throughout history, both in fiction and in reality. But for most of Western history, women did not take on such roles, either under the premise of being “protected” from the horrors and realities of war fighting, or because they were thought not capable of bearing such things, or for many other reasons rooted in things ranging from theology to mythology.

There were exceptions, of course. One of those exceptions was the woman warrior of French history Jeanne d’Arc. And throughout Western history, women found ways to fight, usually by disguising themselves as men, or by acting as nurses, for example. There are stories in American history of women who disguised themselves as men from both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, some doing so successfully for some time, but when found out they were immediately discharged, even though they had proven their skills and courage on the battlefield.

Photo: YouTube/CNN

I have written in the past about the only woman to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. She received it for her service and actions during the Civil War. I will return to her story later during this month, as it is quite moving.

But those stories were rare for most of our history. The role of women in the military over the course of our 246-year history as a nation has changed dramatically in the last 30 years in particular. You will see how that is in this short video that offers a brief overview of the history of women in our military from the beginning to the present.

From 1775 -1917 the most common way that women served was as laundresses, cooks, nurses, and administrators. But even this was not recognized as actual “military” service. It was not until 1917, during the last two years of WWI, that women were first permitted to join the military services. Over 33,000 of them took advantage of that opportunity.

Photo: YouTube/CNN

When WWII came along, over 400,000 women joined the various military services and served both at home and abroad, though still serving in capacities not much different than their Revolutionary War sisters. The “Six Triple Eights,” the 6888th Central Postal Battalion, which I wrote about recently, is the only all-woman service unit that served in Europe during the war.

Things started to change more importantly though in 1976, when women were first allowed to enter the various Military Service Academies. And at every stage of development, there were those who were against it for a variety of reasons. These women though, like their male officer counterparts, would take on leadership roles in each of the services, though not in combat units. Many would prove the quality of their leadership with distinction.

Photo: YouTube/CNN

The roles of women in the military services would begin to change more dramatically in 1993, when Congress authorized women to serve on U.S. Navy combat ships and to fly combat fighter jets. This was a significant step, but it would take a further step when, in 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would announce that all combat roles would be opened up to women in 2016. This was reiterated by Defense Secretary Ash Carter when he announced that that change would take place on January 1, 2016.

Today, all 220,000 military positions are now open to women, including combat roles in every kind of combat unit. They must undergo the same rigorous training and be capable of all of the physical and mental skills that are necessary for men in the specific units they serve in.

There is more to the story, and I hope to drill into the depths of the most recent history of women’s service over the course of this month. Suffice it to say that women have been proving themselves in combat in the air, on land, and at sea in all five of our military services. Since 2016, women have been awarded medals for valor and have shown themselves to be courageous, intuitive, and capable soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines.

Photo: YouTube/CNN

While there may still be those who would argue that women ought not be in combat, women have shown that their patriotism, and their skills in combat, are the same as all who have served, past and present, and they have fought for and won the right to serve in all roles. They are willing to take the same risks and to suffer and endure the realities that naturally go with war fighting. Who could deny anyone the right to fight for their country and for the noble goal of freedom?

Service to the nation is a duty and an honor. Women now have the same ability and right to take on that duty and that honor. War is the greatest absurdity of humankind, but it is a recurring reality. No one in their right mind wants or desires war. But when the injustice of war raises its dark and devilish head, there must be those who are ready, willing, and able to stand in the breech, to defend the innocent. Women, just like men, have shown that they want to be able to share in that readiness, that they are willing and able to take on that difficult role. Let us always pray and do what can be done to promote peace, but let us also be ready to defend it, if and when it becomes necessary.

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