The Role of Women in the U.S. Military
Since time immemorial war and its engagements have been exclusively preserved for men with very little peripheral engagement of women if any. Despite their limited engagement, women have still managed to serve crucial roles within the military in various nations and wars. The involvement of women in wars has occurred over a very long time and female soldiers have taken on various roles within the military. In ancient times the involvement of women in war was greatly limited. However, as time has gone by more and more women have been able to enroll into active military roles across various nations to serve in the military.
In this transformational period there are two major changes that have taken place with regard to the enrollment and involvement of women in the military. These changes include the number of women enrolled in the military and the transformation of roles that women are now allowed to undertake in the present period. This paper shall particularly focus on the United States military and its enrollment and engagement of women in the military. Traditionally, women in the U.S military and many other nations were excluded from active infantry and land combat forces as well as the marines and many other combat roles (Craddick-Adams 1). Currently, there is a change in the roles and engagements of women in the military towards a more active role, which is different from their earlier roles as clerical officers, nurses, typists, mail sorters and other mundane roles. The paper shall particularly focus on the changing roles that women undertake in the military in the current U.S forces, as well as the futuristic view of their roles in the U.S military.
The history of women in the military spans a period of over 4000 years in various nations and cultures. In the past when there was no seclusion, women were in a few legendary cases able to lead troops into war. However, not many are aware of the history of women in war-just like these names may sound unfamiliar; Queen Artemisia, Queen Tomyris, Queen Zenobia, Queen Boudicca, Queen Samsi of Arabia and the Trung sisters from Vietnam. These are among legendary women recorded in history for their active engagement in war, but perhaps they were only recognized because of their leadership roles, rather than their combat roles. It is an unfair side of history because more often than not history is written by the victors. However, there are significant cases such as the “Amazons’ that helped the Trojans against Greek forces in the Trojan War.
The Amazons were fierce archers, known for their great archery in combat engagements, and archeological evidence supports the claims that Amazons were indeed powerful warrior women. The engagement of women in military service has been crucial and necessary, and in the 20th century this has even taken on a new turn as their roles change into more active engagement (Simon 51). In fact there is no single war that has ever been fought without the engagement of women in one way or another. In past engagements such as the World War II, approximately 70% of women held military positions with mundane roles where they acted as clerks, nurses, mail sorters and typists-just to mention but a few (Simon 17). These duties may have been given least recognition compared to men in active battlefronts. However, it is good to be cognizant of the fact that these women facilitated the running of bureaucratic mechanisms that saw the forces up and running. They were also able to take up less engaging roles so as to free up men who would go into deployment in the battlefront (Craddick-Adams 1).
In the U.S. the history of women in the military service dates as far back as 1779, when Margaret Corbin who fought alongside her husband was awarded pension after a vote by Congress. She is the first recorded military service woman to have received pension. Later others were to follow such as Deborah Samson (1804), Mary McCauley (1822) and Elizabeth NewCume (1847). These may not have been the only first women to have engaged in American wars, but they are nevertheless the recognized pioneers because of their pension records. Female soldiers have served during most American conflicts since the Revolution period. However, World War II (WWII) was the first officially recognized period when women served the U.S military under official status.
Despite their early exclusion from military service, the participation of women and its importance became apparent in WWII after the military realized that the service of women was necessary in order to win a total war. Since 1941 a total of 350000 female soldiers have serve the U.S armed forces. These women have served under various positions and under branches exclusively reserved for women in the early days such as WASP (“Women's Army Auxiliary Corps”), WAC (“Women Air-force Service Pilots”) and WAVES (“Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Services”). Additionally, several women have also served in the marines and Coast Guard where their designated unit is known as SPARS.
Even though there is a wide array of military jobs, past military organizations have avoided direct engagement of women in war, because of the controversies that have characterized the debate on the inclusion of women. However, the situation is currently changing and now women can engage prominent military roles as various nations open up to the inclusion of women. More often than not women have mostly been excluded from direct and active participation in armed conflicts. However, many at times their duties have brought them to the in close proximity to the front lines (Norris 1). One most dangerous engagement for such women has been the participation in Navy and Army medical corps.
Women that did not get an active role to participate in military tasks made their contributions to the war through other means such as factory work, where they helped in the manufacture of supplies as well as other local voluntary engagements in support of the war. Currently, the roles of women in the military have greatly changed and the military has opened its doors to women for more active participation. Military women now can serve in an array of jobs and military sections such as the U.S Air-force, the Royal Navy, and RAF where they mainly serve as pilots (Minnesota Historical Society 1). In the early 1970s many western nations began to enlist women in to active military duties and some opened up to allow women to even take up active combat duties. In the United States women soldiers are allowed to participate in certain combat roles.
The U.S specifically allows women’s participation in combat arms positions such as artillery roles, but they are still excluded from units that basically have infantry roles. However, their most widespread inclusion inactive roles occur within the combat air-force flying positions. Several women have been recognized through awards for their active role in active combat participation such as Hester, who was the pioneer receive an award for active participation under the nurses under fire. Conclusively, as days go by more and more women are being allowed in active combat participation roles under various units. The most served units are the support units that deal with transportation and military logistics during war (Norris 1).
Women in the military experience various challenges because they do not work under conventional conditions that ‘normal’ women work in and as such the U.S has taken various steps to ensure that their challenges are addressed for the purpose of making their life more comfortable and easier. For example, in the past contraception education and availability was limited within the military facilities and this was a challenge to most women.
But due to outcry from servicewomen the U.S has introduced the “Compassionate Care Servicewomen Act” which addresses this essential need for military women. This act mandates the provision of sufficient and appropriate emergency contraceptives for the military bases where women can easily access it, for their reproductive health purposes (SWAN 1). This has helped improve the situation for most military women that earlier had no access to reproductive health services. Other repeals and legislations that have allowed full integration of women in the military include the 1991 lift of a ban that prevented women from flying in combat by Congress and integration of women to regular military groups. This has ensured complete integration and full inclusion of women in to most roles (Women in Military service for America Memorial Foundation Incorporation 1).
The involvement of women in war has occurred since a long time ago as a matter of necessity. Women were initially used in supply and preparation of ammunition and war supplies. As time went by they were delegated peripheral military roles such as logistics and medical care and supply of military equipment and materials. As time went by more and more engagements called for more active participation of woman after they were found able to serve in such positions. Currently, many nations accept women within most of their military ranks and more especially the air-force. However, they are limited from direct participation in combat within some units such as the infantry units. But as the world is changing each and every day, there is future possibility of their inclusion in many active roles.
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Norris, Michelle. Roles for women in U.S.A military expand, retrieved on 27th April 2011 from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14869648, 2007, Web
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