By Col. James Hutton, Office of the Chief of Public AffairsMay 2, 2012
WASHINGTON (May 2, 2012) -- In recent days the Army announced two significant moves that open thousands of new opportunities to women. First is a six-month assessment of an exception to the Direct Ground Combat Assignment Rule.
The exception impacts nine brigade combat teams, known as BCTs, of varying missions across six installations. The opportunities are open to females in their current military occupational specialty, known as an MOS, from 10 different officer and six different noncommissioned officer specialties.
The second is a policy change that allows women to serve in six additional MOSs, and 80 units that were previously closed to women because they were normally co-located with direct combat units.
Perhaps a more important aspect to the story is that it merely highlights the continued significance of the advances women have made in the Army and an ever-increasing march in providing new opportunities to serve.
Women are making an impact now.
"It should be clear to all that women are a major force in operations today," said Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff. "We're not starting from the ground up in the assessment period, women are integral in all theaters of combat as we speak. We already know that the level of contributions that women make is at the core of what makes the Army as great as it is today."
Through the end of 2011 there were more than 176,000 women in the total Army. As of the same date, more than 10 percent of our deployed overseas contingency operations forces were women. Over the last ten years more than 135,000 women Soldiers have deployed in support of overseas contingency operations.
Also in 2011, the first ever Cultural Support Team, comprised of all women, deployed and returned from Afghanistan where they achieved continuing success serving as enablers to the Special Operations community. As early as 2004, similar female teams were employed in support of combat operations in Iraq with conventional forces.
Women have had an increasing presence in the Army.
"The number of women as a percentage of the total Army has risen from 12.5 percent in 1993 to 15.6 percent in 2011," said Brig. Gen. Barrye L. Price, director of Human Resources Policy, Army G-1. "There's no mistaking the fact growing opportunities result in more women seeking out the Army as a place to serve."
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen the highest numbers of combat-related awards ever seen in the Army.
Through the end of fiscal year 2011, 437 women earned awards for valor to include two Silver Stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 31 Air Medals, 16 Bronze Stars, and 5,567 Combat Action Badges.
"Women have shared the sacrifices made in combat as evidenced by their hard-earned commendations," said Odierno.
Some of the effects of expanded opportunities are made clear by the advancement of women into key senior leader positions.
For the first time in Army history, the senior officer in seven Army branches is a woman:
• Quartermaster is Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody
• Transportation is Lt. Gen. Kathy Gainey
• Medical Corps is Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho
• Nurse Corps is Maj. Gen. Jimmie O. Keenan
• Adjutant General Corps is Maj. Gen. Gina S. Farrisee
• Military Intelligence is Lt. Gen. Mary Legere
• Signal is Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence
"General Ann E. Dunwoody in 2008 became the first female 4-star [general] in any of the services," said Price. "She now commands Army Materiel Command, which is the premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force."
Brig. Gen. Laura Richardson will become the Army's first female to serve as a division deputy commander for the 1st Cavalry Division.
"Brigadier General Richardson is a leader who will impact a division with a long history in combat in multiple theaters, said Price. "The significance of Soldiers seeing a proven leader day in and day out making key decisions cannot be underestimated."
Women serving the Army today who began serving in the Women's Army Corps, which ended in 1978, have seen tremendous changes in roles.
"As one of the first women commissioned out of Army ROTC in 1976, I was proud to be able to wear the crossed pistols of my Military Police Branch and be accepted as an MP -- not as a WAC who was working at being an MP," said Stephanie Hoehne, principal deputy of Army Public Affairs and a retired Army colonel. "For me it was a small step in progression on how women Soldiers were regarded and assigned."
Hoehne has seen changes continue to increase women's roles.
"As the nature of war, conflict and the Army's role have evolved, from direct, force on force combat to security operations and transnational anti-terrorism, so have the roles of our female Soldiers continued to evolve. The changes have come according to need, common sense and law," she said. "The expansion of jobs, not just training for Army women recognizes women's contributions, and reflects the adaptability that makes the Army strong."
Policy often follows practice.
"Policy is often informed by practice and the evolving nature of modern warfare, and that the outstanding service of our modern Soldiers demonstrates this is the right thing to do for our Soldiers, our all-volunteer Army, and for our nation," Price said.