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Women in the Military: Through the Decades

Every day, our servicewomen and our military take giant leaps forward that pave the path for our next generation of heroes.


By Jennifer Silva, Wounded Warrior Project® Chief Programs Officer

We’ve come a long way since a few brave women abandoned traditional roles as seamstresses or cooks and instead served in combat – disguised as men – alongside their husbands during the American Revolution.

Women have a larger presence in our military today than ever before. With more than 200,000 women serving in the active-duty military, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) predicted that by 2020 women veterans will comprise nearly 11 percent of the total veteran population.

Every day, our servicewomen and our military take giant leaps forward that pave the path for our next generation of heroes. Here are some of the major milestones for women in the military:

  1. From 1917 to 1918, women were officially permitted to join the military. In the last two years of WWI, 33,000 joined as nurses and support staff.
  2. From 1941 to 1945, 400,000 women served at home and abroad in non-combat roles during WWII.
  3. In 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which entitled women to veteran benefits and granted them permanent, regular, and reserve status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
  4. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-106, permitting women to enter U.S. military academies as students for the first time. And in 1976, 119 women entered West Point, 81 entered the U.S. Naval Academy, and 157 entered the U.S. Air Force Academy.
  5. In 1994, Defense Secretary Les Aspin announced the new policy regarding women in combat that rescinded the 1988 “risk rule.” It was replaced with a less restrictive ground combat policy, which resulted in 80 percent of all military positions being open to men and women.
  6. In 2009, the first all-female U.S. Marine Corps team conducted its first mission in Southern Afghanistan.
  7. In 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that all military positions would be opened to women by 2016.
  8. In 2015, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest earned their Ranger tabs, becoming the first two women to successfully complete the U.S. Army’s Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
  9. In 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter reaffirmed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s commitment and permitted all women to apply for combat positions beginning January 1, 2016. This shift opened the opportunity for women to fill 220,000 military combat positions.

When I served in the military, all roles were not open to women, but I always felt I was evaluated based on my performance and abilities. I learned many lessons during my time at West Point and in the Army that have guided me throughout my career and life. Now – in 2017 – our military is comprised of men and women who serve in all roles – combat and non-combat. I am proud to say that all branches of the military are creating opportunities for women – from occupational specialists to officers – to succeed within the system based on ability, not gender.

According to the most recent U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings, there are 996 women enrolled at the United States Air Force Academy, 826 women enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and 1,135 women enrolled at the United States Naval Academy. In 2015, I attended the Ranger School graduation that included the first two female Ranger School graduates, which made me reflect on how far we’ve come as a military and as a country. I’m amazed by the many women who have bravely pushed boundaries to allow women to serve to their fullest capacity. And today’s servicewomen and veterans – who continue to thrive and push for female-oriented benefits through VA – give me hope for our future.

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