Women in Combat: A History of Female Heroes Who Paved the Way


America has a long history of keeping women from the manly business of war; until the men can no longer do it without us. But legacies built on necessity are still legacies and I know just the 27 women ready to help the Department of Defense get "squared away" on the issues surrounding women in combat.

I know, I know we want to believe that, as America knew better it did better or that some super high-speed women proved to some super old fashion men that they could do and, therefore, others could too. But reality is different. Women have been incrementally, begrudgingly allowed into military service over the last 100 years. The unspoken impetus? The men couldn't do it alone.

On the heels of the Spanish American War (1898), President Theodore Roosevelt established the Army Nurse Corps. While women weren't actually in the military, they were, apparently, tough enough to deal with the gruesomeness of its aftermath. Four decades later, President Franklin Roosevelt allowed 400,000 women to serve openly in the military during World War II. The women were enlisted in the Women All for Voluntary Emergency Services (WAVES), Women Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) and Women's Air force Services Pilots (WASP). All were auxiliary (sweetly defined as "providing supplementary or additional help and support") and all were created out of necessity when it became clear that there weren't enough men to handle a world war. No one seemed to wonder – if WASPs are good enough pilots to fly untested aircraft before that aircraft was allowed to flown by the men; are they not good enough to fly period?

President Jimmy Carter saw the first woman take command of a ship and he promoted the first woman to Brigadier General. Under President Ronald Reagan, the first women graduated from boot camp and pilot school. Soon after, he deployed 700 women to Panama. In 1993, President Bill Clinton established the Women at Sea program. Proudly, I served on the USS Kinkaid under the Clinton Administration. While we understood its significance, we also understood that in a booming economy not enough men were joining the military and they needed the women to step up. In 2010, President Clinton told me "what you ladies did allowed me to argue in front of Congress that 250,000 jobs should be open to women." What women in the military know is that legacies are built just by doing your job. In Vietnam, the habit of turning to women in a pinch continued when President Lyndon Johnson sent 7,000 women into theater. President Ford put an end to discharging women when they became pregnant. Naturally, with women serving as full military members and serving for a lifetime; it wouldn't be long until real in roads were made in the military by women. The next forty years of advancement by women, all of who earned every ounce of their success, were a combination of public relations and necessity.

In 2001, President George Bush deployed women to the Persian Gulf where over 100 women gave their lives in defense of America. He will also become Commander-in-Chief to the first woman at the helm of a combat ship and the first woman in charge of a fighter squadron.  Today, President Barack Obama is ordering that women be fully recognized and rewarded for their role in combat.

But now the hard work begins of fully embracing female warriors. That means the VA has to start planning and budgeting for female-specific medical needs. The DoD has to turn from an culture of keeping the female troops safe to making sure rapists don't serve and it's going to have to re-address the basics like physical and academic standards. Congress has to elevate the status of the committees associated with our military and our veterans. Veterans’ organizations, such as Veterans of Foreign War, have to actively engage female veterans or risk perishing (sorry fellas we don't want to be called "auxiliary" any more).

It seems obvious that if you're doing something big, you should consult with people who have already done it. Mr. President, the two million plus women who have defended America with honor and distinction have done their part to help build the legacies of your predecessors. May I respectfully recommend you tap into that rich resource? Consider starting with the following tried and true military pioneers to help you build your legacy as the man who rid the armed services of the adjective "female" in favor of just Sailor, Marine, Airmen, Coastie and Solider.

The 10 pioneering members of the Women at Sea program who served on the USS Kinkaid in 1994 and women at sea.

The Marines of 1st Battalion 8th Marines, Regimental Combat team II, an all female Marine team serving in Afghanistan and the four women of the all female marine team in Afghanistan

The six Coasties who make up the HC-144A Ocean Sentry (all female) aircrew.

The seven Soldiers of the (all female) Army Special Forces Team II