The history of women in the U.S. Armed Forces is hidden, silent and invisible. The few things known are media snapshots that make the news: arguments about women being drafted, images of MASH nurses, the first woman Ranger, the risk and rate of sexual assault in the military. As important as all these snapshots are, they overshadow the reality of 252 years of U.S. military service by women. It is that lack of knowledge about the contributions of women to this country that maintains our invisibility as Veterans.
Women disguised themselves as men so they could fight during the Revolutionary War and continued to do so through the Mexican, Civil and Spanish American Wars. We were in killed in World War II, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. In spite of our service, it was not until March 1917 that women were officially allowed to join the military with full rank and equal pay.
Examining what that means uncovers the reality that equity continues its elusive grasp. It took until 1970 for the first woman to break through the military glass ceiling to receive the rank of brigadier general (one star). It took another eight years for women to be allowed to serve on ships, 18 more for a woman to be promoted to lieutenant general (3 star), and 12 more — until 2008 — for a woman to have four stars pinned to her shoulder.
The combat exclusionary policy, which did not prevent us from being in combat, but did