Women in the Military

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Men and women live in society jointly. According to the U.S. Constitution, all men are created equal, and thus includes women. Although everyone is considered equal, history of women in the military proves different. Many contributions have been given to the military by women for hundreds of years. 'Women's struggle for a place in the armed forces has been about seeking the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship' They have earned the right to the recruiting poster?s promise and challenge: 'Be All You Can Be'" Major General Jeanne Holm, USAF(Ret.) (Women 4 Mar 1998).

Although the Military standards have been set, equal opportunity regardless of race, gender, or religion, "glass ceilings" are still in effect in the military. According to the Active Duty Military Personnel by Grade/Rank and Gender 1997 and 1995 chart, women are still stopped by a "glass ceiling". At the grade of O-10 from both 1997 and 1995, zero women had achieved this status. At O-9, two women and at O-8, three women respectively. For total officers in 1997 only 13.53% were women and total enlisted only 13.71% were women(Glass 4 Mar 1998). These facts and figures show the difficulty that women have had in breaking through the "glass ceiling" even today when women have proven themselves to be competent and successful.

Women have served in the military for hundreds of years. The "official" history of the United States military begins in the 20th century with the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901 (American 4 Mar 1998). These women worked hard and dedicated to the troops and their country. They cared for the sick and wounded, identified and buried the dead, cooked, sewed, and laundered(American 4 Mar 1998). Although these women worked diligently and were dedicated, they were considered officially invisible and only earned half rations and earned the name Camp Followers(American 4 Mar 1998). Tending to the sick was considered woman?s work. Until 1901, they were civilian volunteers or contract workers who had no rank and received no benefits(American 4 Mar 1998).

A bill was written by Dr. McGee to establish a permanent Nurse Corps of June 20, Congress passed this bill in 1901(American 4 Mar 1998). The United States Navy Nurse Corps was established on May 13,1908. At that time, no provisions had been made for rank and rating compensation equal to the Navy?s personnel(Women WWI 26 May 1999). In 1913 Navy nurses began serving on ships aboard the USS Mayflower and the USS Dolphin(American 26May 1999).

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At the beginning of World War II, both Army and Navy nurses were allowed to wear the rank insignia however, they were consequently denied pay and benefits on the basis that "women were not persons" under the laws which governed military pay. Nurses were now officially part of both the Navy and Army. Army nurses achieved "relative rank" in 1920 while Navy nurses did not achieve this status until 1942. Full commissioning and benefits were granted in 1947 after the Army-Navy Nurse Act was passed(American 4 Mar 1998).

The Navy created the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Services) program in 1942 as a part of its reserve with full military status although fewer benefits than Navy men. Although this was after the Civil War, the WAVES did not accept African American women in either the officer or enlisted ranks during World War II(American 4 Mar 1998).

The last of the services to enlist and commission women in World War II was the Marine Corps. On Nov 7, 1942 the commandant of the corps approved the inclusion of women in the Marine Corps Reserve(American 4 Mar 1998). The Marine Corps like the Navy, saw women?s publicity value and trained them in the military drill so they could participate in parades and public appearances. One thing the Marine Corps did not publicize was their original estimate that it would take three women to do the work of two men, but they were incorrect. I took only two women to do the work of three men(American 4 Mar 1998).

On August 5, 1943 the WASP (Women?s Airforce Service Pilots) program was formed. The lack of military status was a big problem for the WASP?s because they were not eligible for military health care or life insurance and the dangerous nature of their work made insurance impossible as civilians. Thirty-eight WASP?s were killed while in service and in several cases the WASP?s had to take up a collection to help the families pay for the burials. Throughout World War II more than 2,000 women flew more than 60 million miles. According to the Army Air Corps statistics the pilot error rate for WASP?s was 001% while male pilots had an error rate of .007%. Even with this low error rate, women still did not receive benefits and were paid less than men, civilian or military. After the war, these brave and competent women were not allowed to participate equally in the post-war economy. Commercial airlines would not hire these women as pilots only as stewardesses(American 4 Mar 1998).

In 1944, the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, recommended that women nurses be drafted. It was voted out in1945 because the bill included married women with children. Today the public and politicians are unwilling to accept women being killed on the battlefield or taken as Prisoners of War. However in 1945, women were dying on the battlefield and were held as prisoners of war(American 4 Mar 1998).

The Women?s Reserve, Public Law 689,. was established on July 30, 1942. As a branch of the Naval Reserve, the women?s reserve established that women were to receive the same provisions as men. According to the regular Navy, women were to be commissioned or enlisted with corresponding ranks and rates. The Reserve title of members must be 20 years of age. Members of the Women?s Reserve were restricted to shore duty within the continental United States and should not be assigned on ships or combat aircraft. (Women WWII 24 June 99). Although this program appeared to benefit women, they were not applicable to women who suffered disabilities or death in the line of duty or injured while employed on active duty (Women WWII 24 Jun 99).

Even though many female doctors and dentists had more training than their male colleagues, the U. S. military refused to commission them even with shortages overseas.A legislative committee lobbied for women physicians to be commissioned by the American Medical Women?s Association 1939-1940. In 1943, congress passed legislation authorizing a temporary commission for qualified female physicians. In 1952 permanent commissioning of women physicians was passed in the U. S. Army medical corps (American 4 Mar 1998).

Women played an important part during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. " They endured the same living conditions, duties, and responsibilities they performed professionally and without friction or special consideration" (Women WWII 26 May 1999). Women were an important part of Desert Shield/Desert Storm by performing a multitude of jobs. Women in the Persian Gulf made up approximately 6.8% of U. S. forces. Women served as administrators, air traffic controllers, logisticians, engineer equipment mechanics, ammunition technicians, ordinance specialists, communicators, radio operators and various other specialties. Women commanded battalions and platoons without special consideration. Although women were not specifically assigned to combat areas, some women were subjected to combat. Five army women were killed, 21 wounded, and two women were taken as prisoners of war. Relatively few women saw combat action due to attention from the media (Women WWII 26 May 1999). The Army is now conducting data to evaluate the effects of women in combat on families and society. The Risk Rule is in effect to protect women from direct combat position. Women made amazing accomplishments during the Gulf War: Women were fully integrated into their assigned units, women performed vital roles under stress and performed well, and followed current laws and policies ( Women WWII 26 May 1999).

With women suffering, surviving and volunteering for service, the considerable status?s must be attainable to them without a fight. Men and women are equal and must be treated as such. Women have proven themselves competent and qualified for tasks and jobs in the military even under stressful or dangerous conditions. Men are allowed to choose combat and women should also be given this choice. Society will not die out because not all women desire to fight in war-like conditions. We have made progress in leaps and bounds and hopefully will continue to do so in the future.

Works Cited:

American Women and The Military. (24 Jun 1999). Http://www.gendergap.com/military(4 Mar 1998).

Glass Ceiling, The Military. "Active Duty Personnel by Grade/Rank and Gender 1997 and 1995". Http://www.gendergap.com/military/Glascei.htm(4 Mar 1998).

Women and The Military. (24 Jun 1999). Http://www.gendergap.com/military.htm(4Mar 1998).

Women in the U.S. Navy World War I. (24 Jun 1999). Http://www.history.navy.mil(26 May 1999).

Women in U.S. Navy,WAVES, World War II. (24Jun 1999).Http://www.history.navy.mil(26 May 1999).


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