Women Making Herstory

Women have honorably served in the U.S. Army since the Revolutionary War. To the surprise of many, women have served in combat roles, typically reserved for men, since the inception of our country. Throughout the month of March, the Army celebrates the contributions, service, and sacrifice of women like Margaret Corbin, who was the first recorded service woman in combat to Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to receive the Silver Star for valor in close quarters combat. From support roles to combat roles, and everything in between, women have shattered the glass ceilings in the Army.

During the Revolutionary War, women like Sybil Ludington, also known as the “female Paul Revere,” rode to warn of approaching British soldiers. Deborah Samson Garrett was one of the most important women who served in the Revolutionary War. Commonly referred to as “Samson,” Garrett disguised herself as a man, in order to fight with the continental Army.

Service of women in the Civil War is conservatively estimated at 400-750 women. Albert Cashier, who was born Jennie Hodges, served in the 95th Illinois Infantry and is cited for participating in more than 40 engagements. Loreta Velazquez, served the Confederacy as a spy and warfighter under the name “Lt. Harry Buford.”

World War I, “the Great War,” dramatically changed the service of women from previous conflicts. Previously, women disguised themselves as men, served as spies, and when their husbands died, took their place on the battlefield. WWI saw women taking on more support roles as nurses and cooks. However, it also saw a significant rise in how many women supported the war efforts in America and in Europe. The Great War also marked the first time in history women donned a uniform, setting the foundation for the creation of the Women’s Army Corps, founded in 1942. In 1978, the WAAC was disbanded and integrated with male units, however, women were no longer allowed to serve in any combat roles. In 1994, then Defense Secretary Les Aspin, ordered the removal of “substantial risk of capture” from the list of disqualifiers for women seeking to join. Women have fought to return to combat roles since then.

Notable women who have served in combat include, but certainly are not limited to, PFC Monica Lin Brown, a combat medic assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2007, when her convoy hit an improvised explosive device, she rushed into action to save the lives of her injured teammates. After the incident, and due to the ban on women in combat, Brown was pulled from her assignment. First Lt. Ashley White served on a Cultural Support Team (CST) attached to Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. Known as the “heart of the team.” White was killed in action in 2011. She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Combat Action Badge.

Today, women are allowed to serve in all of the more than 150-plus career fields in the Army. All restrictions previously in place to prevent women from serving in combat roles, and/or in the most elite units, have been lifted. The Army continues to support and recognize the service of women within it’s ranks.

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