March is Women’s History Month. Veterans Advantage honors the many female veterans and service members in our community, and celebrates the great strides made by women worldwide.
More than 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. Over 9,000 have earned Combat Action Badges and today, women make up 16% of our nation’s Armed Forces, serving in every branch of the U.S. military. As of last year, 100 women have graduated from the U.S. Army’s Ranger School.
2023 marks a decade since the The Combat Exclusion Policy was lifted, allowing women to serve alongside their male counterparts in front line combat and complete combat operations.
"Our progress has been accelerating, but we have a way to go, and we're working on that," Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, commander of U.S. Transportation Command recently said at The Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The theme of the Women’s History Month celebration was “Beyond Firsts.”
Some famous female military firsts: In 1918, the Secretary of the Navy allowed women to enlist in the Marine Corps for clerical duties. Opha May Johnson then quickly became the first female Marine. Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to earn the Medal of Honor, is known for saying “Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom.”
More recently, we recognize women such as Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, veteran advocate, and former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Duckworth was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2004, a rocket-propelled grenade hit Duckworth’s helicopter, and she lost both her legs and partial use of her right arm. She is the first disabled woman elected to serve in the House of Representatives, the first female double amputee in the Senate, and the first Senator to give birth while in office.
During her nearly three-decade career in the U.S. military, General Rebecca Halstead achieved multiple historical milestones. In 2004, she became the first woman in U.S. history to command in combat at the strategic level in her role as senior Commanding General for logistics in Iraq.
Halstead graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1981, a member of the second Academy class that included women, and reached the rank of Brigadier General in 2008. Halstead was inducted last year to the The National Women's Hall of Fame and referred to encouraging words she heard growing up. “It was not always an easy path, but as I learned as a young girl, there are two rules to life. Rule number one, don’t quit. Rule number two, refer back to rule number one.”
The young women of today’s military stand strong after generations of female fighters paving the way.
“Vietnam veterans, the women, we really did spark a lot of debate and break the ice,” said Dr. Linda Schwartz, Air Force veteran and the first female Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning. When she enlisted, women were not allowed to be married in the military. “We were not even allowed to wear our uniforms on the streets of America,” she says, remembering being chased through the airport by demonstrators in Oakland upon returning from the war. “Even nurses were considered warmongers. Now, every time I see someone wearing their uniform, my heart just gets very warm all over.”
From the archives: Other military women recognized by Veterans Advantage, co-founded by a woman, in past years include:
- Capt. Vernice Armour - the Marine Corps' first Black female combat pilot (profiled here).
-Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton - former Commissioner of Veterans' Affairs (profiled here)
-Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught (Profiled here)
-Navy Lieutenant Julia Parsons (profiled here)