Maj. Gen. James Milano, Fort Jackson Commanding General

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The Army has made tremendous strides throughout history and particularly in recent decades regarding the role of women in uniform. We have evolved from women augmenting the force as nurses to establishing the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in World War II, to integrating women into the regular Army as equals.

The month of March is designated as Women's History Month, and this provides us with an opportunity to recognize and honor the sacrifice, commitment and accomplishments of women throughout our nation's history.

Recently, the Army announced plans to open six additional Military Occupational Specialties to women -- artillery-related MOSs that were previously closed to women because they were co-located with direct combat units. This important change will open 13,000 duty positions to female Soldiers. This latest policy change represents another step in the evolution of policy for women in military service. The last major policy change, titled the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, happened in 1994 and it opened tens of thousands of positions to women but kept in place the prohibition from serving in combat units below the brigade level.

The roles of women in military service were initially quite limited. They nursed the ill and wounded, laundered and mended clothing, and cooked for the troops in camp on campaign, performing all of these services that did not exist among the uniformed personnel within the Army until the 20th Century. However, many women distinguished themselves on the battlefield in roles that today would be considered direct combat.

Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley gained the nickname "Molly Pitcher" in 1778 by carrying water to men on the battlefield in Monmouth, N.J. She even replaced her husband, William Hays, when he collapsed at his cannon. Harriet Tubman is well known for her work on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War. Fewer people know, however, that Tubman organized and led a group of scouts (freed slaves) under the direction of Gen. Rufus Saxton in the Beaufort area in 1863.

In World War II, more than 639 medals were presented to members of the Women's Army Corps, to include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Soldier's Medal, Bronze Star, Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. Female Soldiers have distinguished themselves during the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, Military Police, Iraq, 2005, and Spc. Monica Lin Brown, Army Medical Department, Afghanistan 2007, received the Silver Star for acts of valor.

According to the latest available statistics, women serve in 91 percent of all Army occupations and make up roughly 14 percent of active duty and National Guard Soldiers; in the Army Reserve, the number jumps to roughly 24 percent.

Progress has been slow but an increasing proportion of senior-level active duty and DoD positions are being filled by women. The percentage of female Army officers who are active duty and in grades O-4 and above increased from 11.5 percent in 1995 to 13.3 percent in 2009. The same holds true for active duty women in grades E-7 through E-9, who went from 8.3 percent in 1995 to approximately 10.8 percent in 2009. In the grades GS-13 through senior executive service, the percentage of women increased significantly, from 18.9 percent in 1995 to roughly 31 percent as of three years ago.

Although women comprise a small proportion of senior graded positions, some important glass ceilings have recently been shattered. On Nov. 14, 2008, Ann E. Dunwoody became the first woman in U.S. military history to achieve the rank of four-star general. More recently, on Dec. 7, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, became the first woman and first non-physician to become the Army's Surgeon General.

We will culminate our Women's History Month celebration March 23 at the Solomon Center with a luncheon, hosted by Moncrief Army Community Hospital, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The guest speaker will be the chief warrant officer of the Adjutant General Corps, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Coral J. Jones. I look forward to seeing you there!

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Page last updated Thu March 1st, 2012 at 12:29