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A look at how the number of women in the military has steadily grown

Members of Team Tyndall stand in formation as they prepare to march during the Veterans Day parade Nov. 11 in Panama City. This parade is held every year to honor not just the sacrifices, but the heroism of the men and women in military uniforms. (Airman 1st Class Dustin Mullen/U.S. Air Force)

Last month, Coast Guard Lt. Ronaqua Russell, 28, was one of eight pilots to be awarded the prestigious Coast Guard Air Medal for operations after the deadly hurricane that hit Houston in 2017. She is the first African-American woman in the branch to receive the Air Medal.

The Women in Aviation International Conference ended Saturday, March 16 in Long Beach. Nine Coast Guard female aviation pioneers were honored.

25 years recognized

The naval community is celebrating a milestone in gender-integrated operations: 25 years ago this month, the Navy ordered the first assignment of women to a combat ship. Sixty-three women were detailed to the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, based in Norfolk, Virginia.

Space accomplishment

Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain is part of NASA’s first all-female spacewalk at the International Space Station. McClain and fellow astronaut Christina Koch will conduct a seven-hour spacewalk scheduled for March 29 as part of Expedition 59. McClain embarked on a six-month mission to the International Space Station in December.


Women make up approximately 10 percent of the current veteran population, the fastest-growing demographic. The number of female veterans treated by Veterans Affairs almost tripled between 2000 and 2015. As a result, the VA experienced difficulty meeting the clinical needs of female veterans.

Sexual assaults

In 2017, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered the military academies to institute changes to curb sexual assault and harassment. A survey conducted in 2017-18 revealed incidents of sexual assault were up nearly 50 percent at the academies.

A Pentagon report in 2018 said 5,277 service members had been sexually assaulted in 2017, up 10 percent for the year.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual assault in the military this month, Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, a decorated Air Force officer and the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, said she was raped by a senior officer while on active duty. This week McSally sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson requesting an executive summit on sexual assault within the next 30 days.

Women enlisting

1917: The Navy allows about 11,000 women to enlist and serve stateside during World War I, three years before women could vote for president. Later in World War I, the Navy enlists 24 African-American women, who work in the Navy Department building.

1918: Opha Mae Johnson becomes the first woman accepted for duty in the Marine Corps Reserve in Washington, D.C.

1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizes the creation of the Army, Navy and Coast Guard women’s auxiliary/reserves. The Army’s female auxiliary members become known as the WAACs; their Navy counterparts become known as WAVEs.

1943: More than 76,000 women who had enlisted as WAACs are given full military status.

1948: The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act grants women permanent regular and reserve status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

1967: Marine Corps Master Sgt. Barbara Jean Dulinsky becomes the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam.

1974: Navy Lt. j.g. Barbara Ann (Allen) Rainey earns her wings as the service’s first female aviator.

1975: President Gerald R. Ford signs a law permitting women to enroll in military academies beginning in the fall of 1976.

1978: Marine Corps Col. Margaret A. Brewer becomes the first female general.

1990: Navy Lt. Cmdr. Darlene Iskra becomes the first woman to command a commissioned naval ship.

1994: Defense Secretary Les Aspin rescinds the 1988 “risk rule” and replaces it with a less restrictive ground combat policy that allows 80 percent of military positions to be filled by women.

2001: Marine Corps Capt. Vernice Armour becomes the first female African-American pilot in the Marine Corps, and later becomes the first woman to fly combat missions in Iraq.

2010: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announces that for the first time, women can be assigned to submarines.

2013: On Jan. 24, 2013, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lifts the barriers that have prevented military women from serving in direct combat roles.

2015: The Pentagon lifts ban on women serving in ground combat.

2016: Army Capt. Kristen Griest, an Army Ranger, becomes the first female infantry officer.


© 2019 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.