Women in History- Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines play vital role in nation's defense
March 23, 2009
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. - Who do you think of when you hear the phrase "women in the military'" Does a black and white photo of your mother, sporting her dress blues, pop into your head; do you see your sister the night she broke the news to your parents that she was joining the service; or do you picture your daughter, bearing a Cheshire Cat grin, the day she returned from basic training'
March is National Women's History Month. These 31 days are set aside each year to honor and ensure that the history of women will be recognized and celebrated throughout the country. Although there is no specific month or day to recognize women in the military, they are a strong aspect of our nation's history; one recent example includes Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, commander, U.S. Army Materiel Command. On Nov. 14, she became the first woman in U.S. history to earn the rank of four-star general.
Dunwoody is joined by other distinguished military women, including Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne M. Holm, the first woman in the armed forces to be promoted to the rank of major general; Brig. Gen. B. Sue Dueitt, the first woman "officer of the line" promoted to brigadier general in the Army Reserve components; and Brig. Gen. Margaret A. Brewer, the first female general officer in the Marine Corps.
In 2001, Brig. Gen. Patricia E. McQuistion (then a colonel) became the first and only female commander at the depot. She currently serves as commander of the Defense Supply Center-Columbus.
According to the Center for Defense Information, women in the military date back to the American Revolution when they dressed as men so they could join the Continental Army. Women have participated in every war since the 1700s, including the Civil and Spanish-American, World Wars I and II, Korean and Vietnam, and operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, notes the Women in the Military Service for America Memorial Foundation (WMSAMF).
According to the WMSAMF, in the earlier wars, women cared for the ill and wounded, mended and washed clothing, and cooked for troops. In 1948 the Women's Armed Services Integration Act granted women permanent status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. The act also gave women permanent status in the Reserve components, an order that affects Capt. Amanda Clare 50 years later. Clare is an Army reservist who is currently activated for operational support. She is the acting chief of the Business Management Directorate's Technical Development Division.
Clare remembers her time as a Patriot missile officer when she was deployed to Israel in 2003. "We were the first U.S. personnel in theater in preparation for the invasion of Iraq," she recalls, noting it as her most memorable experience. "My unit was operational to deter attacks and defend Israel against SCUD missiles. We were successful because we deterred Iraq from launching missiles into our area of operation."
Today, about 14 percent of military members are women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That percentage makes up about 14 percent of the active Army and about 2 percent of the U.S. military's pilots, according to the Army News Service. About 10 percent of the depot's female work force are current or former military members.
Those women's stories spread beyond the depot, across the surrounding seas, to foreign soil and back home.
According to the WMSAMF, in 1972 the USS Sanctuary set sail with the first male/female naval crew. Thus began the military movement of hard-working men and women serving side-by-side to better themselves and defend their country.
Because of the USS Sanctuary's feat, Carmen Canaii was able to receive the "Sailor of the Day" award while stationed aboard the USS John C. Stennis. She describes this commendation as one of the most memorable experiences she had during her years of service. Canaii believes her superiors nominated her because she went beyond her actual duties while uploading weapons during Operation Enduring Freedom. She is a sheet metal worker in the Systems Integration and Support Directorate, and served in the Navy from 2000-2004 as a petty officer third class aviation ordinance man.
The Center for Defense Information reports that in 1975, 4.6 percent of the armed forces was compromised of women. Among those women were current depot employees, including Electronics Mechanic Aleida Sharp, who served as a telephone switchboard operator in the Army. "I felt enormous pride in that I was helping a fellow Soldier reconnect with his family," she says, remembering the time spent caring for children at Fort Gordon, Ga. "Wives and families were bought down to be reunited with their loved ones." Sharp was in a group that helped care for the children while mom and dad got reacquainted. "What made it memorable was that the war was over and they were home at last."
Elizabeth Lawrence, logistics management specialist in the Production Management Directorate, reflects on her time as a drill sergeant, recalling that the parents of her students would ask her how she was able to instill discipline in their son or daughter. "I told them it was consistency and that when [I said] I was going to do something, I would follow through." Women were not permitted to become drill sergeants until 1972, when six Woman Army Corps noncommissioned officers were enrolled in the drill sergeant program, according to the U.S. Army Board Study Guide Resource.
Lawrence served 26 years in the Army in numerous positions, including communications and electronics maintenance chief, and an instructor, before retiring as the depot's sergeant major.
The 1980s saw women serving in non-combat roles during conflicts in Grenada and Panama. The Center for Defense Information reports that women in the National Guard served on ships that patrolled around Grenada, and Air Force women served as pilots, engineers and loadmasters.
During the Gulf War (1990-91) about 40,000 women served in almost every role the military had to offer, but were not permitted to participate in intentional ground engagements.
Suzanne Rudat, deputy director of the Command, Control and Computers/Avionics Directorate, remembers when the first female was appointed to three-star general and notes that more positions opened up to women during her 22 years of service in the Army. She is a retired lieutenant colonel who served during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and deployed to Bosnia during the Implementation Force (NATO's first peacekeeping operations).
"What really changed was the definition and location of combat on the battlefield," she explains. "It went from very linear to asymmetric, meaning female Soldiers were primarily in the rear echelon of forces but now they mostly serve in the same positions all over the battlefield."
Valerie Robinson, Command Group intern, says her military achievements might be credited to a combination of two factors: timing and talent.
"Much of female Soldier's progress happened during my lifetime," she notes, explaining that in 1974, two years after she was born, the Army began training female helicopter pilots, as noted by the WMSAMF In 1993, a year after Robinson enlisted, combat aviation positions opened to women. Because of this feat for women, and her proven skills at the flight controls, Robinson was able to serve in the Army as a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot in the Army Warrant Officer Corps. According to a 2006 Washington Post report, about 9 percent of women in the active Army currently serve as aviators.
Although Robinson had to leave her 15-month old son in the care of her parents during a seven-month tour in Bosnia, she notes, "even then, timing was on my side, because it was during that deployment where I met the man I would marry."
In 1994, the year Jennifer Pilant joined the Air Force, about 91 percent of the military's career fields were made gender neutral, according to the Army News Service. She is a technical information specialist in the Production Engineering Directorate.
Pilant, who served as a personnel specialist, notes that she spent three years working in the security police orderly room, where she was shown what it was like to work as a cop in the Air Force.
"The hardest part was probably true for man or woman - getting the chance to prove myself to my superiors and them giving me a chance to succeed," she explains, adding that she never regretted the opportunity to serve her country.
While speaking at an event this month that honored Women's History Month and military families, first lady Michelle Obama noted that "[t]hroughout our nation's history, women have played an important role in the military as well as in organizations supporting the military during times of conflict," she said. "Our foremothers and our sisters today have joined our forefathers and our brothers today in securing our liberty and protecting our country."
Currently women and men work side-by-side to better the military and themselves.
Jacqueline Boucher, editorial assistant in the Public Affairs Office, recalls that the Marines and Air Force members she worked with while deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom became like a family to her and saying goodbye at the end of her tour was a sad time.
"Joining the military was the best decision I ever made. It is exciting, full of surprises and made me a better person," she says, noting that because she served as a public affairs specialist during her career she had the opportunity to work on a variety of assignments. Boucher remembers guiding news media to crash sites, watching the space shuttle make an emergency landing, answering questions about a vice presidential visit, and talking to hundreds of tour groups. She retired as an Air Force technical sergeant in 2004, after 22 years of service.
According to the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, there are currently almost 2 million woman veterans, and the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 198,400 women serve on active military duty. Although women have made significant contributions to the military, they are not permitted to serve in certain areas, including the Rangers and Special Forces (Army), and SEALS (Navy).
During a luncheon this month, Dunwoody told attendees, "As we celebrate Women's History Month, we must not forget those who have gone before us. But let's also recognize... a legacy earned by our pioneers...; women who knew no fear, and... women who risked everything they had to serve their country."
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the largest full-service Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) maintenance and logistics support facility in the Department of Defense. Employees repair, overhaul and fabricate electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network.
Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces. The depot is the Army Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence (CITE) for Communications-Electronics, Avionics, and Missile Guidance and Control Systems and the Air Force Technology Repair Center (TRC) for ground communications and electronics.
About 5,700 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control, computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.