Update January 23, 2013: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has lifted a ban that prohibited women from serving in combat. This move opens up thousands of positions.
The first woman to officially enlist in the military was a Philadelphian named Loretta Walsh who enlisted in March of 1917 and became the first Yeoman (F) in the Navy. Though she may have been the first woman to officially enlist, woman had been being recognized for their service since the American Revolution. A few first from Military Women “Firsts,”
- Margaret Corbin fought with her husband at Fort Washington and in 1779 Congress voted her a disability pension of one half a soldiers pay and one suit of clothes or the equivalent in cash.
- Deborah Samson was granted a pension by the Massachusetts legislature in 1804 and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley a pension in 1822 of forty dollars a year “for services rendered” during the Revolutionary war.
- Elizabeth C. Newcume, in male attire, was mustered into military service during the Mexican War, at Fort Leavenworth in September 1847. She served ten months and spent time fighting Indians at Dodge City until her sex was discovered and she was discharged. It took a private act of congress to pay Elizabeth Newcume who received a bounty land warrant for 160 acres and full payment for ten months service, plus three months extra pay, as provided in the 5th section of the act of 19 July 1848.
These are just a few of the tens of thousands of stories about women in the American military (including my own grandmother who served during WWII). With so many stories existing of women who have served this country it still remains a surprise that in 2011 women are still barred from ground combat.
There are currently 100,000 women serving in the U.S. military, many of whom are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and laugh at the idea that they are “barred” from ground combat since, in many case when on the frontlines it’s becomes impossible to distinguish between combat and noncombat positions.
That’s why a report from the Military Leadership Diversity Commission will recommend that the Pentagon acknowledge the reality on the ground and allows women to be assigned to combat units.
The argument against lifting the ban was described by Ret. Marine Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen to NPR. “We’re talking about ground combat, nose-to-nose with the bad guys, living in the mud, eating what’s on your back, no hygiene and no TV. How many of you have seen how infantrymen, the ground troopers, live, and how many of you would volunteer to live like that?”
Tammy Duckworth, a former helicopter pilot who lost both of her legs in Iraq and is now the second in charge at the Department of Veterans Affairs, replied to Petersen’s comments.
“I’ve lived like that. I have lived out there. … I would do it in a minute for the honor of being able to serve next to some of the greatest folks that I’ve ever been able to serve next to,” she said. “It’s about the job. Women are doing that right now.”
The final draft is expected to be handed over to Congress and the White House by mid-March.
This is a great opportunity to talk about the reality facing women in the world, and especially in the military with your own daughter. Here are a few questions you can ask your son or daughter about this important topic.
- Would you (speaking to your daughter) be willing to fight for your country?
- Would you (speaking to your son) be willing to fight alongside your sister in combat?
- Do you think girls should be allowed to fight on the front lines if they want to? Why or why not?
- If so many women are already fighting ground combat, should they stop or should Congress simply lift the ban?
We here at SheHeroes salute the women fighting in our military and hope that when the young SheHeroes of tomorrow grow up they will be allowed to serve their country alongside their brother in whatever way the choose.
We’ll be following this important story as the report goes to Congress in the spring.