By John Reese
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs
March is National Women’s History Month, and the U.S. Army Garrison-Stuttgart “purple” military community joins the nation in an amplified celebration of women’s contributions to this nation and its services.
Women in the military
Women play vital roles in today’s armed forces; they are leaders overseas and at home; they are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, Department of Defense civilians, and family members who are the foundation of support for all service members. The garrison community honors all women for their military and civil service, their support and strength, and their sacrifices.
“Molly Pitcher!” was the cry of Soldiers of the Continental Army called out when they needed water during the Revolutionary War, and the legend of Mary “Molly” Ludwig Hays, the wife of an artillery cannoneer, tells the story of how she assumed her husband’s job of swabbing and loading a cannon after her husband collapsed during the Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778. Since then, the Army has set the conditions for all Soldiers to reach their full potential based on ability, not gender. Women Soldiers have recently made further historic strides, from graduating from Ranger School to the appointment of the first black female Army surgeon general to the Department of Defense opening up all military occupational specialties to women. In 2016, Pvt. 1st. Class Katherine Beatty became the first female cannon crew member; in 2015, Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, the first woman and the first African-American to serve as adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard and took command of the Maryland National Guard; also in 2015, Brig. Gen. Diana Holland was named the first female commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Women Sailors have a rich history of service in the Navy dating back to the 1800’s when women served as nurses. Navy nurses briefly saw shipboard service in 1913 aboard a Navy steam yacht and a gunboard; on March 21, 1917, Loretta Perfectus Walsh made history when she became the first female chief petty officer; the “Angels of Bataan”, a group of Navy nurses captured in the Philippines by the Japanese in 1942 and held as POWs until rescued in 1945, continued to tend to the sick and injured in the Los Baños internment camp; in 1943, engineer draftsman Thelma Stern was the first woman assigned to serve aboard a ship, the tanker USNS Escalante (AO70); in the 1970s, women Sailors began to fill sea duty billets and enter surface warfare and aviation fields, as well as gaining access to officer accession programs previously open only to men.
In 2016, all military occupations and positions were opened to women as they continue to contribute their talents and capabilities to our force by holding nearly every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver. Today, women serve in every rank from seamen to admiral, representing 19 percent of the entire naval force, 18 percent of all officers, 11 percent of flag officers, 20 percent of the enlisted force, and 8 percent of all senior and master chiefs.
As early as 1930, the War Department considered using women pilots. In 1939, famed woman aviator Jacqueline Cochran wrote Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of then-President Franklin Roosevelt) to suggest women pilots could be used in a national emergency. Aviatrix Nancy Harkness Love in 1940 made a similar proposal to the Air Corps’ Ferry Command.
Nothing was done until after American entry into World War II. Facing the need for male combat pilots, the situation by mid-1943 favored the use of experienced women pilots to fly Army Air Forces aircraft within the United States. Two women’s aviator units were formed to ease this need and more than 1,000 women participated in these programs as civilians attached to the AAF. These were merged into a single group, the Women Airforce Service Pilots program in August 1943 and broke ground for the female pilots of today.
This year’s Women’s History Month observance is of special importance to women in the Marine Corps. A century ago, Opha Mae Johnson and 304 other women changed the face of the Marine Corps forever in 1918, when they became the first women to enlist in the Corps during World War I; in 1943, when the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was passed, women became a permanent part of the Corps.
Since then, women Marines now have the same recruit training standards as men; they’re given the same sets of challenges and are required to qualify on the rifle range. Thousands of combat-tested women Marines have been deployed to all corners of the earth. According to Wikipedia, an anonymous woman became the first to complete the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course, Sept. 25, 2017, and become the first female Marine infantry officer.
Women have protected American mariners and coasts longer than there has been a Coast Guard. Hannah Thomas protected America’s waterways before the U.S. was a country by taking over her husband’s job as keeper of the Gurnet Point Light, near Plymouth, Mass., when he joined the Continental Army in 1776. Another lighthouse keeper, Maria Mestre de los Dolores, served at the St. Augustine, Fla, lighthouse, 1859 -1862.
Nineteen-year-old twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker were the first Coast Guard women in uniform, in 1915 during World War I; in 1942, Navy Lt. Dorothy Stratton became the director of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve; in 1973, women could join the modern Coast Guard and Reserve, and were admitted to the Coast Guard Officer Candidate School; Eleanor L’Ecuyer became the first woman on active duty promoted to captain since World War II in 1974; in 1976, the Coast Guard Academy began admitting women, and women began serving on cutters in 1977; and in 1978, all personnel restrictions based solely on sex were lifted, opening all officer career fields and enlisted ratings were open to women.
In 1990 Lt. Sandra Stosz took command of the cutter Katmai Bay, a 140-foot icebreaking tug homeported in Sault Ste Marie, Mich., becoming the first female commanding officer of a cutter in the Great Lakes.
Women’s History Month
Today, Women’s History Month stands as a further reminder of the strength the military has gained and will continue to gain through having a high quality, diverse, all-volunteer force standing ready to answer the nation’s call. Women service members help to make the U.S. military the finest fighting force in the world. They serve with distinction and are role models exemplifying the highest values. Fully integrating women into all military positions lets women to contribute in all aspects to the armed forces, which facilitates improvements throughout their branches of service
(Editor’s note: Information for this story was compiled from official .mil websites of the services.)
2018 USAG Stuttgart Women’s History Month Events
A Women’s History Month observance is March 9 at 11:30 a.m. in the Kelley Events Center large auditorium and March 13 from noon to 1 p.m. at the Patch Community Club.
U.S. Africa Command Equal Opportunity office and the Women, Peace, and Security Working Group have joined forces to organize a panel discussion, during the event March 9, to celebrate the contributions of female officers, non-commissioned officers, and civilians to the U.S. military and our history of diversity and gender integration. The panelists are all U.S. AFRICOM personnel who will share their experiences and lessons learned leading diverse teams throughout their careers and here at the command.
On Patch Barracks, March 13, the guest speaker is Air Force Captain DiAundra N. Walker, Detachment 1 commander, 786th Force Support Squadron.
All ID cardholders and their guests are welcome to both events. For more information or to volunteer for future EO events, contact DSN 431-3756 or 421-5042.