I used to be somewhat of a traditionalist when it came to men and women. I think it had to do with my upbringing. My mom stayed home with my brother and I. She cooked and cleaned and ran us all around town when we needed to go to baseball practice or cub scouts. She was a team mom, and class chaperone, and a scoutmaster. She did all of the things that a Mom in Melbourne, FL did during the 1970s and 80s. At least that I saw moms do. That’s what I grew up with and that’s how my opinions of roles were first formed.
However, I was never told that life had to be lived that way. Mom had goals. She wanted to get her college degree and become a teacher. After she achieved those goals, she set new ones. She wanted to earn a Master’s degree, teach college and use her skills in various ways. All of that happened. She set her eyes on a Doctorate, and now in her (age deleted so I still get Christmas and Birthday presents,) she is still pursuing that goal and setting new ones. However, she is still Mom, supporting her 2 sons, her husband and now her daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. She’s an amazing woman.
It wasn’t until later in life, after Heather and I joined the Army and I became Mr. Army Wife that I learned that my mother had another goal. She had the goal of serving in the military. At 18 years of age, Mom wanted to leave the house and sign up to serve her country. Unfortunately, that goal never came to fruition. You see, in the 1970s, girls between the ages of 18-21 had to receive permission from their parent or guardian to enlist. My grandfather said no and Mom stayed home. While something we may not understand today, in hindsight it turned out much better for her. She married my Dad at 19 and birthed her awesome son just three years later. She gave birth to her other son 2 years after that and her family was complete. Had she joined the Army that might not have happened. Lucky for me Granddaddy knew what he was doing.
Now, why am I telling you a story about my mother, and her desire to be a Soldier? Well, because I have recently taken a consulting gig with the Friends of the US Army Women’s Museum. Basically, I am charged with telling the Army story and the stories of the brave women who have served since the dawn of our Country. To whom do I tell these stories? Anyone who will listen. This generation of Soldiers is a big group. The next generation of Soldiers, that’s important too. We go out to schools or welcome them in to share our history.
In order to educate though, you must first be educated. I thought I knew a lot about women serving in the military. After all, I am Mr. Army Wife. My bride is now a Captain (promotable) in the Army. I knew that women used to serve in clerical positions so more men could go off and fight during WW2. I knew that some women during the revolution or civil war used to disguise themselves like men so they too could serve their country. I knew that as time has progressed, so have the roles for women in the military. But, oh how little did I know.
Let’s start at the beginning. Did you know that the first woman to receive an Army’s pension was Margaret Corbin? During the Revolutionary War she followed her husband off to battle. She would tend to injuries or cook for the men. When John Corbin was killed, her role changed and she picked up right where he left off firing his cannon. Legend has it that she was a much better shot than her husband and other men fighting would stop and look knowing it couldn’t be John hitting the targets. Congress authorized her pension in 1779, making her the first official US female service member.
Did you know the only female to earn the Medal of Honor did so during the Civil War? Dr. Mary E. Walker was an assistant surgeon serving with the Union Army in Tennessee. She was captured and imprisoned for a
time in Richmond, VA . After her release she returned to the war, this time at a prisoner of war camp in Louisville, KY. It was President Andrew Johnson who awarded Dr. Walker with her Medal of Honor.
It goes on from there. During WW1 most of the women serving with the Army were with the Army Nurses Corp, but other were trained as radio electricians, secretaries, or accountants. Some 230 women were trained to be telephone operators, and quickly received the nickname “Hello Girls.” They served overseas during the war, but sadly were quickly dismissed when the war was
over without official discharges or pensions. These women and others fought to change this and in 1979 they were officially recognized as Soldiers. A majority of them passed away before this happened.
It wasn’t until WW2 that women who joined the ranks of the Army were granted some of the same protections as their male counterparts. It wasn’t equality by any means, and it would take to long to list all of the differences here, but the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was an official branch of the Army. By the time WW2 ended WACs, as the female soldiers have come to be known, had served in every theater of operation both in Europe and the Pacific. They distinguished themselves and earned various medals and citations. 160 WACs lost their lives in non-combat related ways. Women were now a part of the Army, and they would never look back.
Women continue to make history in the Army. We’ve seen news story after news story about the brave women who are risking their lives on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010 Sergeant Sherri Gallagher became the first woman ever named “Best Warrior’s Soldier of the Year.” And just last week, (Feb 2015) 5 female soldiers passed the Ranger Assessment Training Course bringing them closer to being the first females to attend and possibly pass the Ranger Training School. That’s pretty badass!!!
Why am I telling you all this? I’m telling you this because I am an advocate for women in the military. I know a lot of women who serve or have served and for the most part it has been an extreme pleasure getting to know them and serving with them. However, I am also telling you this because for everything I thought I knew, there are dozens of things about women in the military that I didn’t know. I didn’t know about Margaret Corbin and her cannon skills. I didn’t know about Dr. Walker, the prisoner of war, Medal of Honor surgeon, and I didn’t know about the “Hello Girls.” Now I do, and it’s all because of one place…The US Army Women’s Museum.
I don’t want this to sound like an advertisement for the museum because I think everyone in the Fort Lee area should come and visit, (which I do) or because I think everyone else should check out their Facebook page (which you should.) No, I want this to be a story about how I have come to respect the immense about of work women have had to do, and the insane amount of scrutiny they have had to endure to get to where they are in today’s military. It’s crazy to think that we are 100 years past the beginning of American involvement in WW1. During that time we have gone from 35,000 women serving in just a handful of fields, not even as regular members of the Army, to more than 350,000 serving in all branches of the military in more than 400 occupational specialties.
There is one other thing I believe is important to say in this piece. Women can claim one thing about their service to our country that men will never be able to do. Every woman, every single female who has ever served in the US Armed Forces, volunteered to do so. There has never been a draft in place for females. So when Margaret Corbin watched her husband die, and then picked up his weapon and used it against the very men who had just slain her beloved, she did so of her own free will. When your great grandmothers joined the Army Nurses Corps in WW1 or the WAC in WW2, they did so without the government drawing their number out of a hat. Millions of families were affected by the drafting of their husbands, sons and fathers into service. That should never be trivialized. Yet, neither can the fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women have also served their country and every one of them walked into an office and willingly signed their name on the dotted line. Once again, pretty badass.
I have heard it said that the Woman’s Museum is important because it teaches women’s history in the US Army, but that’s a pretty limited and rather sexist view. The museum is important because these stories are part of the complete picture that is the US Army and US military. It is a part of the legacy that stretches across many generations. I can trace my family military tree back at least 4 of those generations. My Great Grandfather was a cook in the Army. My Grandfather was a B-29 gunner. My Father was an Electronic Repair Specialist on some big missiles. I was a Broadcast Journalist. My wife, well she’s achieved more than the four of us combined. She is a Logistics Officer. She’s served with distinction for almost 14 years. She’s deployed twice, been a Company Commander, and a Battle Captain. She is not just the woman in our family’s military history, she’s the ALL STAR Soldier in our history, and she just happens to be female.
So, I USED to be a bit of a traditionalist when it came to men and women. I used to think I would go to work and then come home to do my chores of mowing the yard and changing the oil in the cars. Now, I cook. I clean. I do the laundry and make the bed. And, I still mow the yard and make sure the oil is changed. I’m proud to do it. After all, my wife is a Soldier in the United States Army. To me, that’s pretty badass.
You can learn more about the US Army Women’s Museum by visiting their Facebook page at this link, https://www.facebook.com/usarmywomensmuseum.
You can learn more about women in the US Army or sister services by using Google. (DUH)