Deployed officer in Afghanistan recalls days of being a WAC
June 22, 2011
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 22, 2011 -- The 1970s probably seem like a long time ago for today’s new Soldiers, but for one officer serving in Afghanistan, the era is still a vivid memory of when women Soldiers were treated differently than men.
For Lt. Col. Kimberly Marlowe, the time of segregation between the sexes is something she sees every day -- on her left hand symbolized by a ring. The 14-karat gold ring means she was a member of WAC, or Women’s Army Corps. It’s something she’s proud of despite the separation of the times.
“We are a dying breed,” said Marlowe, 53, who is deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, serving with the Regional Support Command-South, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.
On the ring is the head of Pallas Athene, who was selected as the insignia of the Women's Army Corps. Athene is a Roman and Greek Goddess associated with a variety of womanly virtues. Athene, along with the traditional “US” was selected for lapel uniform insignia, cut out for officers and placed on discs for enlisted women.
When not deployed, Marlowe is an environmental quality analyst, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, in Grayling, Mich., which has the largest National Guard training camp east of the Mississippi River with 147,000 acres.
Deployed, she is now serving as the transition officer for geographical and institutional functional areas for RSC-South. Her deployment to Afghanistan first started with the 46th Military Police Command in July 2010 where she served as the G-2 officer (intelligence) and linguist coordinator. Then Marlowe extended in theater for one more year and went to work for RSC-South beginning in March 2011.
Surfing the worldwide web could not produce the answer on how many WACs are still in uniform. But as Marlowe points out, you would have to be at least 51 as 1978 saw the end of the WAC.
WAC first started out as the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in 1942 in the early part of World War II, but was shortened to WAC within a year. Its first director was Oveta Culp Hobby, a prominent society woman from Texas.
A physical training manual was published by the War Department in July 1943, aimed at bringing the women recruits to top physical standards. The manual begins by stating their responsibility: “Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over.”
While most women served in the States, some did serve in Europe, North Africa and New Guinea. Records show that nearly 96,000 women served at the height of the war and that number naturally declined after its end. In June 1946, nearly 18,000 WACs were on active duty.
The 150,000 women that did serve during World War II allowed the equivalent of seven divisions of men to fight. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable."
Women mainly served in administrative and nursing positions. And, during the Vietnam War -- 1964-1973 -- women could only be in their 20s to serve in theater, Marlowe said.
Numbers rose again to 56,000 in 1972, during the Vietnam War. After the conclusion of that war, much had changed in American society -- civil rights, music, women’s rights, voting age, and the Supreme Court’s landmark decision “Roe vs. Wade” regarding abortion.
The Army had changed too and recognized that females played a crucial role in the success of those two wars and the Korean War in the early ‘50s. Hence, the idea of having a separate women’s corps seemed outdated and women had proven themselves to Soldier with the best of them.
Even the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., ended a long tradition of banning females in 1976. That year 119 women were admitted. Four years later, 62 graduated and paved the way for more to follow.
“It (WAC) dissolved because of equal opportunity,” Marlowe said. “The ‘60s and ‘70s were huge in women’s equal rights.”
So in October 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the abolishment of the WAC, which meant that females and males would now train together and be treated as equals regarding promotions, assignments, and military protocol.
“I was a little disappointed,” Marlowe said. "I had a lot of pride in being a WAC.”
Now, Marlowe said, she was just another Soldier.
“The WAC had a lot of history," she said. "It just felt like that was being taken away.”
Like most big changes, there were pros and cons.
“Something was lost and something was gained,” Marlowe said.
“In some respects [ending the WAC] was a good thing -- men and women started training together. Women were taken more seriously. The men got to see them doing the same training they did,” Marlowe said.
For Marlowe, enlisting in the Army was something of a final resort. After completing 11th-grade, Marlowe said she was sick of school and quit in 1975. Her mother told her to finish school or join the military. After getting her GED, that’s exactly what she did in November of that year.
“When I came in, I was a 17-year-old kid who hated school,” she said. The Army “pushed me to go farther than I thought I was capable of going.”
Marlowe decided to become a military policewoman and went to Fort McClellan, Ala., to become one.
“I just thought it would be fascinating,” she said.
Marlowe’s first three years in the Army were in the WAC. Her military occupational specialty was military police where Marlowe served in Wurzburg, Germany, when the Army’s mode of transportation was still the quarter-ton jeep.
After three years of active duty, she opted for National Guard duty serving in the engineering field where she worked for nearly two decades. Then she left engineering and joined the 46th Military Police Command.
It was this command and state that eventually saw its first female general officer in the Michigan Army National Guard -- Brig. Gen. Mandi Murray, who took over as the deputy commander in November 2005.
“It’s about time. It’s difficult for women still,” Marlowe explained. “To attain the rank of general, most officers have to have commanded combat units such as the infantry, which is something not open to women, and because of this, it is very hard for women to achieve the rank of general across the military not just in the state of Michigan or the 46th MP command. There are still few female officers at this level.”
In 1989, Marlowe enrolled in Officer Candidate School after it was suggested to her.
“Are you nuts, I hate officers,” she responded. But, after thinking it over, Marlowe opted for it.
“As an officer, maybe I could do more,” she said. Fifteen months later she was commissioned as an officer in the Army’s engineer branch. She took basic engineer course in 1991 and the advanced engineer course in 1998.
Marlowe also went onto earn a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife management in 1998 from Lake Superior State University and in 2006 received her master’s degree in organizational management from Spring Arbor University. Both schools are in Michigan.
In 1999, Marlowe was named the first female to command an engineer company -- an Assault Ribbon Bridge company -- in the Michigan Army National Guard. “I learned a lot. I had great Soldiers working for me.”
In 2004 Marlowe branch transferred into Military Intelligence. She even taught Officer Candidate Scool for three years as well, and deployed to Iraq in 2008 serving in Mosul, Baghdad, and Taji as a combat engineer adviser.
Throughout her career, Marlowe said she has felt some discrimination for being female, but remains steadfast that the military overall is committed to equal opportunity.
As Marlowe will attest to, things are very different in today’s Army. And she is concerned that today’s female Soldiers may not understand how things evolved to where they are today.
When Marlowe isn’t Soldiering or working as an environmental quality analyst, she spends her free time running a 20-acre farm breeding horses. She currently has 13 horses and 2 donkeys.
And, she plans to stay in the National Guard until 2015 and then retire with 40 years of military service.
Looking back, Marlowe knows she’s come a long way -- a private running a traffic control point in Germany to a lieutenant colonel traveling the world meeting its people.
Her experiences have shown her that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are some of the most generous people she has ever met. Like any country, there is a small pocket of bad people who seem to get all the press.
“I’ve had a wonderful ride with this," she said. "There’s a lot of pride in this for me.”
“For a kid coming up now, the opportunities are endless,” Marlowe said of the Army. “Is it an easy life? No.”
Speaking of kids, Marlowe has three of her own. Two are in their 20s and one who is 31. In fact, she has a son in the active-duty Army serving in Hawaii as a utilities equipment repairer making sure the heating, ventilation, air conditioning equipment is properly working. He was deployed in Bagram, Afghanistan, when Marlowe was in Iraq.
She recalled a saying her dad used to spout that fits her Army career: “Somedays I wouldn’t take a nickel to do it again, but I wouldn’t take a million dollars to have never have done it.”
Despite extending, Marlowe said she is looking forward to the end of her deployment.
“I am absolutely looking forward to getting back to my job. My true love is being out in nature,” she said.
But her choice of making a career out of the Army through the National Guard and working as a civilian has allowed her to experience the “best of both worlds,” Marlowe said.
“Once you’re a Soldier. You’re always that Soldier.”
Editor’s note: The former WAC museum at Fort McClellan, Ala., was moved and incorporated into the Women’s Army Museum at Fort Lee, Va. This museum was dedicated in May 11, 2001. The website link for the museum is http://www.awm.lee.army.mil/