What is the history of women in war in the United States. This doesn’t go back far enough, but in January of 2013, the combat exclusion policy was lifted unanimously by the Joint Cheifs of Staff. They said, “If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed, color, gender or sexual orientation.” Both men and women were now allowed to serve in combat roles. It wouldn’t be until 2016 when women were formally allowed to serve in all Military Occupational Specialities (MOS) but the truth was the law limiting women from combat was not removed because the military now believed women could fulfill the roles that had once only been filled by men, but instead it was because they had realized the value of women during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Women of war
Women began to be placed into combat arms units as it was quickly realized that half of the population. The half that spent time doing chores and talking to each other was inaccessible when only men were sent out on foot patrols to gather intel in local villages. Women on the other hand were able to connect with the women in the village. And bring back information to help root out the insurgents and begin to change the war going forward.
Even while this was happening women still found the front lines of war. The war had been going on for years. The front lines of the war got grey. Women found themselves in the heart of the battle. Be it a strategic IED blast that led to a firefight. Or a routine conveys to deliver supplies that came under attack. Women although formally not allowed to serve in combat found themselves in harm’s way as the years continued.
On the dusty roads of Afghanistan
I still don’t know how I ended up on a deployment running convoys in Afghanistan. But when the deployment tasking came down there was no check this box if you are a woman and it will be handed off to a male. Instead, I prepared to go. Knowing that there was a possibility of not coming home. Knowing that the danger of war might be something I experienced first hand. Attached to an infantry unit, running convoys, meeting with local Afghans. I did all of this in 2010. Years before the combat ban was lifted. But I didn’t realize the magnitude of me and the other women who were assigned to the PRT. We were in the military. We did our jobs. And we hoped we would all come home.
But the public heard the news of women finally allowed in combat. The combat exclusion ban was lifted. And now they thought women could be part of the fight. Someone asked me if I would leave the military because the ban was lifted. I let them know I already had my combat action badge and that this only acknowledged what women had done, not what women would do.
But we had been there for years.
The more women I talk to about their experience in the military the more I realize people do not know enough of our stories.
Jenny came home on her mid-tour and said goodbye to family and friends because she didn’t see how she would be coming home alive at the end of her deployment to Iraq. Listen to her story here.
Laura joined the National Guard months before September 11th to get money for school and found herself in Iraq right after the Marines had left. They were running patrols and seeing combat from the early days of the Iraq war. Check out her story here.
Vanessa never left the base, but the daily incoming rockets were a constant strain during her deployment. Listen here.
And that is just three of the many stories I have heard during my work collecting stories for Women of the Military Podcast and book. And doesn’t mention the stories that began my podcasting journey in my 31 Days of Deployment Stories.
Women have changed the military by their bravery and sacrifice and not enough people know our stories. So, if you haven’t heard the stories of military women make sure you take time to listen to our stories and know-how we changed history and the women serving today continue to be that change.