By Staff Sgt. Vincent AbrilMarch 8, 2012
A phrase well-known to many military spouses is "holding down the house," a nod to the significance of life on the home front. That phrase is just one aspect of Elvia Palumbo's daily duties though, because she is the wife of an Army pilot, the mother of two boys and also a chief warrant officer with Company A, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, where she serves as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter instructor pilot.
For centuries, military duty was mostly carried out by men. But, after decades of effort and many milestones achieved, present and future generations of women are enjoying the privilege of uniformed service.
Originally from Panama, Palumbo moved to Tampa, Fla., when she was 22, finished her bachelors degree and enlisted in the Army as a veterinarian technician.
"It was in all the books I read," Palumbo said. "I read about all the people who came through Ellis Island and their children who served in the military to repay the government for allowing them to immigrate, and that inspired me."
Four years later, she switched to aviation to challenge herself further.
Palumbo knows all too well the significance of women serving in uniform; she is one of only four female pilots in her company. The key to her success was taking advantage of the path paved by so many women before her.
"If it wasn't for the strong and bold women of our nation's history, I wouldn't be here doing what I love to do: serving and flying," said Palumbo.
But the fight's not over yet.
"Every day of my 17 years in the Army I have to prove to my supervisors that I am able to accomplish the same job and that I'm just as good as any male pilot, especially since I became an aviator," Palumbo said. "One of the ways you can do that is by always being ready, knowing the books, knowing the mission, proving we know our job."
At flight school, Palumbo recalls a piece of advice her mentor gave her.
"If a male pilot has a bad blight, he's had a bad flight," she said. "If a female pilot has a bad flight, she's a bad pilot. Every day I jump into the cockpit I'm ready to do my job 100 percent. I cannot have a bad day."
Over the years, the biggest concern about women in the military has been the juggling act of serving and Family life.
"It is a balancing act we have to do -- being able to separate being a Soldier and then coming home and becoming a loving mother who nurtures her kids," said Palumbo. "With experience, you learn how to separate work from home."
Palumbo said she uses the skills she learned in the Army to better her home life just outside of Camp Humphreys, South Korea.
"I can bring home [discipline and attention to detail] and teach that to my kids," she said. "They know when mommy is flying, they still have to do their homework and set the table for dinner. What I instill in them this still far from what I carry in the military. They don't march around the house, but they still know that I don't have to be there for them to follow the rules. That's what they carry from me being a Soldier. They're 3 and 4, but it work and they're well behaved."
Even while balancing her home and professional life, she also finds time to give back to her community by volunteering as a Zumba instructor at her local gymnasium and teaching dance at her local community theater.
"Choreography is my forte," Palumbo said. "It's hard for me to say no when people ask me to choreograph their shows."
A professional ballerina for eight years before joining the military, Palumbo found a way to continue her passion in the military. Conducting the Zumba class allows her to dance and get her physical training in. And on the weekend, she is working with the Humphreys Community Activity Center to choreograph the musical "Honk," about the ugly duckling, which will be open to the public later this month. She takes her Family out to the CAC to and while she teaches, her children also dance with the performers.
Palumbo also holds a Masters of Science in Biology from Austin Peay State University, which she completed on an Iraq deployment.
"She is a total package Soldier," said Capt. Travis Owen, Co. A commander. "She is like 'Rosie the Riverter' because she steps up to the plate and can fill any role in today's Army.
"During the day she performs extremely well in all facets of the traditional Army lifestyle and at night she hangs her hat and gloves to be the loving mother and wife, and volunteers numerous hours in the community."
"Rosie the Riveter" is an icon of America. She represented the thousands of women who worked in factories during World War II, while their husbands were deployed to Europe and Asia to fight the war. After years of doing the man's job, when their Soldiers returned from war, the women were expected to return to their role as housewives. The "Rosies" and the women who followed them had the taste of the working life, but women would not reenter the job market in large force until the 70s -- an era of women's liberation because they fought to achieve rights and opportunities equal to those of men.
Women have also served in the U.S. Army since its inception. Disguised as a man, Deborah Sampson enlisted in the Continental Army and served for three years in the Revolutionary War and was wounded twice. She is the first known woman Soldier in the U.S. Army. When her secret was discovered, Gen. George Washington gave her an honorable discharge.
During the World Wars, the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and the Women's Army Corps were established and they served in the fields of administration and nursing.
In July 1948, enlisted women were allowed in the regular Army, and in December that year the WAC officers were commissioned into active duty.
By the Korean War, women were serving roles in cryptopgrahy, military police, supply, intelligence, communication and hospitals. The Vietnam War saw the Army's first female brigadier general and command sergeant major.
In the 1970s, all non-combatant MOSs opened to women, and in five years, the number of women in the Army jumped from 12,260 to 52,900. Women were also allowed into jump school, Reserve components and ROTC programs. Weapons training became mandatory. And combined basic training with men was authorized. Overseas tours for women were approved by Congress to be the same amount as men -- 36 months. And for the first time, in 1977, men and women trained together.
"Women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military's mission," said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. "Through their courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill, women have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield. We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so."
Last month, the Department of Defense announced plans to open six combat jobs to women -- 13M Multiple Launch Rocket System crewmember, 13P MLRS Operations/Fire Direction Specialist, 13R Field Artillery Firefinder Radar Operator Specialist, 91A M1 Abrams Tank System Maintainer, 91M Bradley Fighting Vehicle System Maintainer and 91P Artillery Mechanic.
"We recognize the expanded role of women in the military," said Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, principal director for DOD Military Personnel Policy. "I've seen women in combat perform in an expanded role. I'm very proud of them."
That decision is awaiting Congressional approval before implementation.
Today's military woman faces the challenge of juggling several lives -- the Soldier, the wife and the mother.
One challenge to women in the military is support from the Family.
"My joining the military broke her heart," said Palumbo of her mother. "She was mostly afraid of having her daughter at war. I told her that the Army is a great organization, and would train me so well that she would have no worries."
Palumbo's mother was a nurse, but after Palumbo's birth, her mother decided to be a stay-at-home mom.
"I am who I am because she taught me right," Palumbo said. "She was there when I came home from school, made me lunch. I love that she was a stay-at-home mom. But that was 40 years ago. Nowadays, if you want a better lifestyle, both parents have to work."
Four years after joining the military, Palumbo met her husband. After marriage, they set their goals for a Family.
"Family was always on our mind, however, we wanted to accomplish certain goals and be successful in our military careers before kids," she said.
Palumbo is one of many success stories of women serving in the military.
"When viewing Chief Palumbo , I don't see gender," Owen said. "I just know Soldiers like her are hard to come by and every unit needs more like her.
"What makes her most notable is her tenacious and motivated attitude in all that she sets out to accomplish. She is always willing to help those who come to her for advice, and a model for selfless service."
So how does Palumbo does she do it all?
"Just find a way to get there, build bridges, anything to accomplish your goals," she said. "It is possible to have a successful life if you can balance how to be a Soldier and mom. It's difficult, but not impossible. Seventeen years in the military, 12 years of marriage, two wars, two kids, four PCS moves, and we [my husband and I] are still as strong as the first day we met. I love my life!"
For more information about women in the U.S. Army, visit www.army.mil/women.
• Prior to the 1994 DoD assignment rule, 67 percent of the positions in the Army were open to women
• Today, 70 percent of the positions in the Army are open to women, and women serve in 93 percent of all Army occupations (active duty and the reserve components), as of June 2009.
• Women represent about 13.4 percent of the active Army, 23.7 percent of the Army Reserve and 14.0 percent of the Army National Guard as of fiscal year 2009.
• An increasing proportion of senior-level active duty and DoD positions are being filled by women.
• The percentage of female officers in the active Army in grades O-4 (rank of major) and above increased from 11.5 percent in fiscal year 1995 to 13.3 percent in fiscal year 2009.
• The same is true for enlisted active-duty women in grades E-7 (rank of sergeant first class) through E-9 (rank of first sergeant), who went from 8.3 percent in 1995 to approximately 10.8 percent as of fiscal year 2009.
• In the grades GS-13 through senior executive service, the percentage of female civilian Army employees increased from 18.9 percent in 1995 to 30.9 percent as of fiscal year 2009.
• Pentagon statistics show 144 military women have been killed and 865 wounded in combat and noncombat incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• Some 20,000 of the 205,000 service members currently serving in Afghanistan are women, and they make up about 280,000 of the more than 2.3 million troops who have served in operations over the past decade.
• The 1.4 million-member active-duty force now serving includes about 205,000 women.