March is Women’s History Month. This year's theme, “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” acknowledges the pioneering women, past and present, as important contributors to the achievements of the military services and civilian workforce, stated Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in a memorandum.
“We recognize the accomplishments of women in the department and their contributions to national security which helps maximize the department’s warfighting capabilities,” he stated, providing examples:
These women and their stories represent the many untold stories in DOD of women who took on mission-critical assignments and advanced as leaders in the military, research, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, he stated.
“The department celebrates their collective victories which strengthen our workforce because we can leverage their unique experiences, perspectives and expertise in support of our mission. In addition, they inspire future generations of young women from all backgrounds who desire to be a part of the department and share in its mission,” Cisneros stated.
In 1971, women made up just 1% of the military services. Ten years later, it was 8.5%
However, women at that time were not allowed to serve in combat military occupational specialties like infantry, artillery and combat aviation.
As of Oct. 2022, there were 231,147 women who made up around 18% of the department’s active duty force and all jobs have opened to them in recent years. Also, about 33% of DOD civilians are women.
In the Coast Guard, as of Jan. 31, there were 6,220 active duty women out of about 41,000 total members.
In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. A special presidential proclamation is issued every year which honors their extraordinary achievements to include those who have or are serving in the armed forces.
Although there were instances of women serving in the military in every U.S. war, it wasn't until World War I when policy allowed them to serve in non-combat jobs to free up men to fight. Altogether, about 34,000 women served during World War II in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The Army only allowed women to serve as nurses.
With the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918, women in all military branches were demobilized except for some Army and Navy nurses. During World War II, the military once again faced a manpower shortage as they had in World War I. The services began accepting women who served in the Women's Army Corps; the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, more commonly known as WAVES; the Marine Corps Women's Reserve; and the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve.
The acronym for the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, interestingly, is SPAR, which stands for Semper Paratus — Always Ready. In June 1948 President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act allowing women to receive regular permanent status in the armed forces, which by then included the Air Force.
In addition to Women's History Month, there’s also International Women’s Day, which is celebrated March 8 of each year. In a statement on that day, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III noted that DOD “recognizes the tremendous, enduring contributions that women soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, guardians and civilian employees have made in service to our country.”
From America’s first days, women have made profound sacrifices. They have made innovative contributions to national security and blazed trails for future generations, Auston said.
Since the Revolutionary War, more than 3 million women have served, even before the military fully recognized their service, he noted.
“Though the Department has made significant progress to break down stubborn barriers for women in the U.S. military, we know that we still have more to do to promote inclusion and well-being and to give all our teammates the opportunity to rise to their full potential,” Austin stated.
“I am personally committed to this vital work. To ensure that we continue to have the strongest fighting force in the world, we must draw on the full power of all our people,” he added.