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In the United States


Women have been involved in the U.S. military since 1775, but more in the civilian fields of nursing, laundering and mending clothing, and cooking. In 1917 Loretta Walsh became the first woman to enlist. But it was not until 1948 that a law was finally passed that permanently made women a permanent part of the military services. In 1976, the first group of women was admitted into a U.S military academy. Currently, approximately 16% of the graduating West Point class consists of women. According to statistics only 15.6 percent of the U.S. Army's 1.1 million soldiers are female. Women serve in 95 percent of all army occupations. In a one-year span, some 40,000 American military women were deployed during the Gulf War operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. But not one woman was able to take on any form of combat. In 1994 a policy prohibits women from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level. A study conducted by Matthews et al. 2009 to examine the attitudes of West Point cadets, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets, and non-military-affiliated students from civilian colleges toward a variety of roles that women may serve in the military. The results showed that military cadets were less approving of women being assigned to certain military jobs than non-military students.


Almost twenty years later, in 2013, an order was issued to end the policy of “no women in units that are tasked with direct combat”. On January 24, 2014, the US Army announced that 33,000 positions that were previously closed to women would integrate in the upcoming month of April, though it still has yet to be determined if and when women may join the US Army's Special Operations community. Prior to the 1994 DoD assignment rule, 67 percent of the positions in the Army were open to women. Today, 78 percent of the positions in the Army are open to women, and women serve in 95 percent of all Army occupations (active duty and the reserve components), as of 2014.

Female U.S Army soldiers are being asked to take part in a new training course designed by Combined Joint Task Force Paladin, which is specifically designed for Female Engagement Team members. The course will help female soldiers train for tasks such as unexploded ordnance awareness, biometrics, forensics, evidence collection, tactical questioning, vehicle and personnel searches, instructions on how homemade explosive devices are made and how to recognize if a device is homemade. It is rumored that women may begin Army Ranger training by July 2016. This change will open up hundreds of thousands of front-line positions for women. The goal is for all assessments to be complete and have women fully integrated into all roles in the army by 2016. But many women in the military have raised objections, including combat veterans such as Marine Captain Katie Petronio, who inadvertently was drawn into combat during two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Petronio wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette in which she said she doesn't know a single military woman who actually wants to see combat, explaining that the issue has been pushed forward by civilian activists rather than military women. She says that her own experience changed her mind about the issue, explaining : "Five years later, I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry". She says that women and men have differing traits which affect how they react to combat. In her own case, she said that although she wasn't wounded, the constant strain of physical exertion, uncertainty and chronic lack of sleep for extended periods of time did permanent damage to her health, although she had previously been in excellent physical condition before deployment. She said there were clear gender differences: "my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions" including muscle deterioration and polycystic ovarian syndrome which led to infertility. She additionally says that the physical differences between men and women have led the military to "modify" physical training standards to accommodate women, which she warns is going to have devastating consequences on the battlefield, explaining: 'let’s be honest, “modifying” a standard so that less physically or mentally capable individuals (male or female) can complete a task is called “lowering the standard”! The bottom line is that the enemy doesn’t discriminate, rounds will not slow down, and combat loads don’t get any lighter, regardless of gender". She also questions whether any woman's career would really be enhanced by combat - as argued by those in favor of the changes - given that many women will find their careers being ended by crippling physical problems, wounds, or death. She recommends : "Let's embrace our differences to further hone in on the Corps' success instead of dismantling who we are to achieve a political agenda".

Recent U.S. Navy policy allowed three exceptions for women being on board military submarines: (1) female civilian technicians for a few days at most, (2) women midshipmen on an overnight during summer training for both Navy ROTC and Naval Academy, and(3) family members for one-day dependent cruises.

In October 2009 the U.S. secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced that he and the chief of naval operations were moving aggressively to change the policy. Reasons included the fact that larger SSGN and SSBN submarines now in the fleet had more available space and could accommodate female officers with little or no modification. Also, the availability of qualified female candidates with the desire to serve in this capacity was cited. It was noted that women now represented 15 percent of the active duty Navy and that women today earn about half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees. A policy change was deemed to serve the aspirations of women, the mission of the Navy, and the strength of its submarine force.

In February 2010 the secretary of defense approved the proposed policy and signed letters formally notifying Congress of the intended change. After receiving no objection, the Department of the Navy officially announced on April 29, 2010, that it had authorized women to serve aboard submarines.

The first group of U.S. female submariners completed nuclear power school and officially reported on board two ballistic and two guided missile submarines in November 2011.

In 2012 it was announced that 2013 will be the first year women will serve on U.S. attack submarines.

On June 22, 2012, a sailor assigned to USS Ohio (SSGN 726) became the first female supply officer to qualify in U.S. submarines. Lt. Britta Christianson of Ohio’s Gold Crew received her submarine supply corps “dolphins” from the Gold Crew commanding officer, Capt. Rodney Mills, during a brief ceremony at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS & IMF).

On December 5, 2012, three sailors assigned to USS Maine (SSBN 741) and USS Wyoming (SSBN 742) became the first female unrestricted line officers to qualify in U.S. submarines. Lt. j.g. Marquette Leveque, a native of Fort Collins, Colo., assigned to the Gold Crew of Wyoming, and Ltjg Amber Cowan and Ltjg Jennifer Noonan of Maine’s Blue Crew received their submarine “dolphins” during separate ceremonies at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., and Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Wash.

In 2013 Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that the first women to join Virginia-class attack subs had been chosen: They were newly commissioned female officers scheduled to report to their subs in fiscal year 2015.

In May 2014 it was announced that three women had become the Royal Navy’s first female submariners.

In 2015 the U.S. Submarine Force will begin accepting applications for the Enlisted Women in Submarines (EWIS) Initiative. This is a detailed process that will systematically place enlisted female Sailors on OHIO Class submarines. Female Sailors from all communities and ratings will be afforded the opportunity to be among the first to join the U.S. Naval Submarine Service.


United States

In WWI and WWII women served in numerous roles such as the Army Nurse Corps, and the Women's Army Corps (WAC). They carried out various roles such as clerical work, mechanical work, photo analysis, and sheet metal working; in some cases they were utilized as test pilots for fighter planes as WASPS. In 1979 enlistment qualifications became the same for men and women. While women were able to enlist, they were prohibited from direct combat roles or assignments. In 1994 the Department of Defense officially banned women from serving in combat, but, on January 24, 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the military's ban on women serving in combat. Implementation of these rules is ongoing. There is some speculation that this could lead to women having to register with the Selective Service System.

The United States Marine Corps is still in its infancy stages of allowing women into combat positions. Army Ranger Battalions and Navy SEAL units plan to integrate women by 2015 and 2016, respectively. On November 21, 2013, the first three women to ever complete the United States Marine Corps’ combat training course graduated from the United States Marine Corps School of Infantry in Camp Geiger, North Carolina. However, these three female graduates will still not be allowed to serve in infantry units until further studies can demonstrate they are physically capable of doing so.

On January 24, 2014, the US Army announced that 33,000 positions that were previously closed to women would integrate in the upcoming month of April, though it still has yet to be determined if and when women may join the US Army's Special Operations community.

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