Women's History Month Reminds Female Soldiers How Far They've Come
March 26, 2007
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, March 26, 2007) - Women serving in the U.S. military have come a long way since the years of World War II, when American women began serving more formally in their country's military.
"Women have fought in battles ever since battles have been fought," said Sgt. 1st Class Lori Kobylanski, equal opportunity advisor for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. "Unfortunately they have had to do so illegally. The battlefield has always been male dominated. If women wanted to fight beside men they had to do so in disguise or by chance. Women would dress as men to fight, or women responsible for bringing Soldiers water or food would pick up a weapon and fight."
During the 1940s, women began integrating themselves into the armed services formally when the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and Women Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Service were founded, allowing women to serve in a military manner.
The WACC and WAVES allowed women to contribute to the fight, mostly in a medical capacity. It was not until 1973, when the draft for the Vietnam War ended, that women were allowed to fall into the ranks alongside men. Today, more than 229,000 women serve on active duty.
As Operation Enduring Freedom stretches into another year, women serving in all armed forces continue to break barriers on the battlefield. In a predominantly male institution, the women of the military have worked hard to earn the respect of their male counterparts.
Adaptability has played a huge role in that.
"Men and women each lead differently," said 1st Lt. Lori Instahl, platoon leader for 3rd Platoon, 585th Engineer Company, based in Fort Lewis, Wash. "Leading a mostly male platoon, I have adapted my leadership techniques to that fact."
Although military women have strived to become more resilient and embrace their strength, they also bring compassion to the fight. Humanitarian assistance missions and medical work on the battlefield are special occasions in which the compassionate edge of a female is key, according to Kobylanski.
"We can be tough and we can maintain a strong standard," said Kobylanski. "But it doesn't negate the fact that we are still women. We bring our own special strengths into combat."
Past stereotypes have suggested that women could not stand up to the rigors of combat. Female Soldiers far and wide have been breaking that mold for many years.
"As women, we deal with people underestimating our strength," said Instahl. "We have to work hard to illustrate how capable we are. I love to run and workout - physical strength always wins instant credibility. You also have to illustrate a desire to really get in there with your troops and get your hands dirty. As long as you are trying hard and are always willing to learn, that is half of any battle."
Women's History Month spotlights the efforts of strong women throughout history. These strong individuals serve as role models, their examples mentoring the women of today.
"It's nice to have a moment set aside for women," said Sgt. Amanda Marion, a medic for C Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion. "Many women have worked hard to help give us the freedom to attain our goals. Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, two of the first and most influential Army nurses, serve as my personal role models."
"Twenty years ago there were not a lot of women in the Army who could help mentor you," said Instahl. "The percentage of women in the Army is at an all-time high and still rising. If you have questions, there are plenty of women you can turn to now for answers."
The percentage of women in the military has risen from 1.6 percent in 1973 to 10.8 percent today.
"Women have been breaking barriers in the military for years," said Kobylanski. "And they will continue to break those barriers."
(Sgt. Amber Robinson writes for Task Force Spartan Public Affairs.)