Women in the Military: Recognizing Their Achievements and Sacrifices
While Republicans were busy defeating the Paycheck Fairness Act — legislation aimed to fight gender discrimination in the workplace — at least women in the military were making important progress and advancements. (Keep in mind that our 1.4 million-member active-duty force now serving includes about 225,000 women.)
Some of the achievements and advancements made by women in the military have been covered here at TMV:
A few days ago, Col. Jeannie Leavitt became the first woman to take command of an Air Force combat fighter wing, the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, one of only three units of F-15Es, where she will command the wing’s 5,000 active-duty men and women. She was also the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot.
After a tough fight debunking all kinds of gender prejudice and nonsense, Navy women are now serving successfully on our fleet ballistic missile submarines. Twenty-four women have already reported to guided missile and fleet ballistic missile submarines and about 20 more will report each year.
As mentioned here, one of the first women to serve on U.S. submarines — delicious irony — is Lt. Rebecca Dremann, who is an openly gay naval officer and a smoker.
On March 9, the Army Chief of Staff announced that Brig. Gen. Laura J. Richardson will become the Army’s first female to serve as a deputy commanding general of a division. Richardson will assume the position of deputy commanding general for support in the 1st Cavalry Division atFortHood later this year.
Back in February, President Barack Obama nominated Air Force Lieutenant General Janet C. Wolfenbarger to become the Service’s first woman four-star general. (The Army has had a female four-star general, Ann Dunwoody, since 2008).
On June 6, at a ceremony at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Wolfenbarger pinned on her fourth star and took the reins of the Air Force Materiel Command, the largest command in the Air Force with a yearly budget of $60 billion, responsible for the technology, acquisition, test and sustainment of the service’s current and future weapon systems.
At Moody Air Force Base in Georgia a young female flight surgeon has been selected as the U.S. Air Force’s 2011 Flight Surgeon of the Year.
Capt. Susan Marchiano began her career as a flight surgeon only three years ago.
After deploying to Afghanistan last year, Marchiano distinguished herself as a casualty evacuation medical director, personally flying aboard six HH-60 and 148 HC-130 combat sorties for a total of 133.6 combat flying hours in 2011. She is directly credited with 82 saved lives and 143 assists.
Not to be left behind, enlisted women are also scoring firsts. On May 29, the very first Air Force Medical Service Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Leadership Award was presented to Senior Master Sgt. Lorraine A. Hieskill, superintendent of the 59th Surgical Inpatient Squadron, at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. The prestigious honor is awarded to only one senior NCO in the medical service which has over 2,000 senior enlisted members.
In February, the Defense Department announced policy changes under which military women, especially those in the Army, may see more than 14,000 new job or assignment opportunities open up.
The report submitted to Congress included a “vision statement” that says: “The Department of Defense is committed to removing all barriers that would prevent service members from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a news release at the time:
Women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission. 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.
But women in our military still have some hurdles to overcome.
In November 2009, The House of Representatives passed a resolution which “honors and recognizes the service and achievements of current and former female members of the Armed Forces.”
Sadly, two-and-a-half years later the intent of that resolution has yet to be fully realized.
Presently, the more than 225,000 active duty military women who bravely and dedicatedly serve our country in the various Services are denied coverage for abortion care in cases of rape or incest, except when the pregnancy endangers their life.
A week ago, the Senate Armed Services Committee, during consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013, adopted an amendment, offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that would lift the shameful law that denies our female service members who are victims of rape or incest covered abortion care at military facilities — notwithstanding the no-votes by nine Republicans on the Committee.
It took Congress 35 years to grant the brave, pioneering female military aviators belonging to the World War II Women AirForce Service Pilots (WASP) full military status and even longer to recognize and honor their service.
Let us hope that legislation granting our women in the military full equality will move a little faster this time.
Of course, no discussion of our women in the military would be complete without mentioning and honoring the price they have paid servingour country.
While Defense Department policy bars women from direct combat, “especially in the large Army and Marine units like infantry and special operations …[m]ore than 130 American women in military service have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. More than 800 women have been wounded…and many are regularly engaged in combat activities as part of their service,” according to the New York Times.