Equality through the ranks
August 23, 2013
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- "Now, therefore, be it resolved, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26th of each year is designated as Women's Equality Day, and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women's rights took place." -- Joint Resolution of Congress, 1971, Designating Aug. 26 of each year as Women's Equality Day
The fight for equal treatment among genders is a thread that can be found throughout the fabric of history -- and seen most prominently in times of battle, revolution and change. Battles within battles are the reason the military has its own unique chapters in the story that is women's equality.
Female roles in the Army have gone through a catalog of changes -- evolving from positions of support to those of leadership. It's a process that began during the piecemeal formation of a functioning military during the revolutionary war, when women like Nancy Hart, Margaret McCauley (better known as Molly Pitcher) and Deborah Samson risked life and limb to aid Soldiers, gather enemy information and even sneak their way to the front lines. Others offered their support to the military by serving as cooks and seamstresses.
During World War I, American women gained military momentum, becoming an important part of the machine, as more than 30,000 females joined the war effort, often braving combat zones to properly care for injured Soldiers -- all in a day's work as part of the Army Nurse Corps. When the U.S. stood on the brink of a second global conflict, women were once again prepared to answer the Nation's call to duty -- this time as the Women's Army Auxillary Corps, approved by Congress in 1942. By 1943, the WAAC had achieved full Army status.
As female responsibilities began to parallel those of their fellow male Soldiers, the need for a gender-specific Army corps became obsolete. By 1978, the Women's Army Corps was officially disbanded. Enlistment qualifications for males and females became one and the same a year later.
Occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan have revamped the concepts of combat zones and front lines -- directly resulting in the re-evaluation of where female boots should be allowed to tread. The Department of Defense announced a new policy in February which opened combat-related jobs to females for the first time -- a move which subsequently created six new occupational specialties that had previously been unavailable to female Soldiers.
In June, the Pentagon announced a plan to allow female Soldiers into all combat units by 2016, including elite forces such as Army Rangers.
"I remain confident that we will retain the trust and confidence of the American people by opening positions to women, while ensuring that all members entering these newly opened positions can meet the standards required to maintain our warfighting capability," said Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, in a May memo to service leaders.
Female Soldiers continue to prepare for this transition by serving in combat positions and undergoing rigorous training -- training at places like the exclusive Sabalauski Air Assault School.
Following a fast roping exercise Tuesday afternoon, a trio of female Soldiers shared their outlooks on what it means to be a female in Air Assault School, and today's Army in general.
"It's been tough; definitely challenging," said Staff Sgt. Nicole Roman, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, of the rigorous training at the school.
For Abigail Peno and Sarah Conkey, ROTC Cadets, the opportunities allowed them are motivation to do their best.
"I take pride in being able to do what the males to, and to the male standard," said Peno, from North Dakota State University. "It's good to have women integrated, as long as the standard stays the same. It means a lot."
According to Conkey, the integration has been well-met by her male counterparts.
"The amount of respect for us while we're going through this is immense," she said. "It's great to see that we're able to be on that same level. I feel extremely proud to be serving my country and doing the same thing as the males."
In honor of Women's Equality Day, the 86th Combat Support Hospital will be holding a special honorary event at the Dale Wayrynen Recreation Center Monday at 11:30 a.m. For more information, call (270) 798-7446.