The history of women in the United States Military can be traced back during and about the year 1776 during the Revolutionary and Civil wars in the United States. Just like in many nations of the world, the roles played by women in the United States military were limited. Women mostly served with the armed forces as volunteer nurses, cooks and laundresses and some went ahead to serve in disguise as soldiers (Foner). Due to the chauvinistic nature of our society women were not allowed to serve officially in the US military until the Army Nurse Corps and Navy Nurse Corps were established in 1901 and 1908 in their respective order.
A befitting example here is during the American Revolution where Deborah Samson was enlisted in the Continental for approximately Army as Robert Shurtliff and served one year (Shaffer). Women had a hard time since they had to disguise themselves as men to serve in the Union and Confederate Armies during the progressing war (read World War I). This was later cubed by the introduction of thorough physical examinations of all potential recruits before admitting them. This technically served a great blow to the involvement of women in the United States military.
As time went by these regulations that used to lock women out of the United States military began to decline. During World War 1 for an instance, the United States military allowed women to participate in taking active roles in the military. Statistics indicates that during this time 21,480 Army nurses served in military hospitals both in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses served in the military; they took care of the German prisoners of war and African-American soldiers (Zieger). In addition to this, the Army recruited and trained around 233 bilingual telephone operators to operate at switchboards close to the front in France and also sent 50 skilled stenographers to France to join hands and work with the Quartermaster Corps. The Navy was too not left behind. It enlisted 11,880 women as Yeomen (F) and more than 1,476 Navy nurses served in the military hospitals both in the United States and overseas.
The Marine Corps, in that year, only, enlisted 305 Marine Reservists (F) taking junior and or mere positions such as clerks. Two women also served with the Coast Guard. In addition, it is imperative to appreciate the death of more than 400 nurses from the influenza flu (Spring). In the year 1920, Army Reorganization Act was enacted which had a provision that gave military nurses the adorable higher military positions from the lower lieutenants positions. The only short coming of this piece of legislation was that it failed to accord women full rights and privileges as enjoyed by their male counterparts.
During World War II, a number of women were involved in the military activities. The statistics have it that more than 60,000 Army nurses served both in the United States and overseas. The Army created the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942, which was later changed to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1943. It is estimated that over 150000 women served in the war. The Women Air force Service Pilots (WASP) was formed and flew internal missions as ferries, test pilots and anti-aircraft artillery trainers. The Navy recruited women into its Navy Women's Reserve, going by the name Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), in the year 1942 and before the war came to an end more than 80,000 WAVES occupied shore billets in a number of jobs which included but not limited to communications, intelligence, supply, medicine and administration (Congress, United States of America). In the year 1943 the Marine Corps established the Marine Corps Women's Reserve who served the United States military as clerks, cooks, mechanics and drivers among many other positions. In the same year 1943, the US Public Health Service came up with the Cadet Nurse Corps which in total was to train over 125,000 women for possible military service. It is worth noting that more than 400,000 American military women served nearly all non-combat roles in the United States military (American Archives).
During the famous Vietnam War, approximately 265,000 women were recruited in the American function of the military. Out of the 7,500 women who were deployed in the theater, 36 were from Marine, 421 women were in the Navy 771 were in the Air Force and the remaining figure came from the Army. In all the Army, Navy and Air Force nurses, would sum up to 80 percent of the total number of women. This period nevertheless was characterized by a number of positive changes as far as women involvement in the United States was concerned. In the year 1968 the first Air Force woman was sworn into the Air National Guard pursuant with the passage of Public Law in section 90 to section 130 which allowed the Air National Guard to enlist women (Congress, United States of America). In 1969, another landmark change occurred. The Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC) was opened to women. In 1970, the first women in the history of the armed forces, filling the positions of the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps and the Women's Army Corps Director, were appraised to the positions of brigadier generals. Again in all of the foregoing instances none of the women were in the United States military occupying combat positions.
Last but not least on the history of women within the United States military, was during the Desert Storm. Here women amounting to a tune of 374,000 were deployed. But again, not even a single woman was able to take on combat of whatever nature and character. In 1994, a policy was formulated that prohibited women from being recruited to ground combat units if they happened to be below the brigade level (Spring).
Women are again faced by a number of limitations namely; physical, psychological and physiological limitations as combat requirement for women. In the military wings, the ball seems to concentrate on physical standards on whether the services will have to lower the physical standards required before women can serve in combat-arms units. Marine Corps officials also argue that women must meet the required, performance-based standards if they want to serve in infantry units (Congress, United States of America). In addition, psychological factors are also taken into account before enlisting women in the combat positions of the military. All these hurdles are aimed at locking the women out of the military.
All is not lost. Some glimmer of hope is still present. The military as new opportunities star opening up for female soldiers. Not long ago, great strides have been made in key changes that have taken place in favor of women. For instance in 2005, we had the first woman in history being awarded the Silver Star for combat action. Also in the year 2006 the Coast Guard appoints the first woman Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, making her the first woman in history to serve as a deputy service chief in any of the US Armed Forces. More recently, in 2007, the first woman in US Naval assumed the position of squadron (Spring).
In 2013, an order was passed by the United States government according women the same opportunities as men in the combat arms. Female United States Army soldiers are being asked to partake in a new training course aimed at equipping them with skills in biometrics, forensics, evidence collection, tactical questioning just but to mention a few. A rumor has it that women may begin Army Ranger training by mid-2015 (Foner).
We should, nevertheless, forget the social impact that comes as a result of embracing this change. Some individual argue that women in a combat unit would injure the unit cohesion since men could not trust the women. Also on the issue of romantic or sexual relationships is of key importance as some women might opt to get pregnant so as to avoid combat. Some radical members are hesitant with the thought of women being captured in addition to vices such as torture and sexual assault being visited on them (Foner). Some people also argue in favor of the women by saying that there is a shortage of male combat soldiers and, therefore, women should not in any way be seen as being secondary human beings.
In conclusion, therefore, as liberal citizens we should embrace the spirit of togetherness and cease from any form of gender discrimination in our military forces. We should have an all-inclusive system where men and women are involved in equal platforms, in our military forces since national security is our number one agenda and a role bestowed upon all citizens.
American Archives. The Declaration of Independence. 10 May 2013. 3 March 2014. <http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/>.
Congress, United States of America. Constitutional Amendments and Major Civil Rights Acts of Congress Referenced in Black Americans in Congress. 20 January 2014. 22 January 2014. <http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Data/Constitutional-Amendments-and-Legislation/>.
Foner, Erick. The New American History. New York: Temple University Press, 2010.
Shaffer, Robert. "Opposition to Internment:Defending Japanese American Rights during World War II." The Historian (2008): 597-619.
Spring, Joel. Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality: A Brief History of the Education of Dominated Cultures in the United States. Bpston: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
Zieger, Robert. America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.