Like all Veterans Days, Veterans Day 2023 is an opportunity to pay tribute to the women and men who have served and sacrificed for you and for me. At WVIF, we recognize our own unique opportunity to honor the exceptional group of heroes who have long been integral to the U.S. Armed Forces, but whose contributions often remain unsung: Women Veterans.
Milestones Achieved by Women in the Military
The journey of women in the U.S. military has been marked by milestones that have shattered stereotypes and broken down barriers. Just take a quick look…
Service in World War I
Women stepped up during World War I, serving in auxiliary roles such as nurses, clerks, and telephone operators. Their contributions played a crucial role in supporting the war effort.
Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
In 1943, the Women’s Army Corps was established, providing women an official place in the U.S. Army. This was a significant step forward in recognizing their contributions.
Integration of the Armed Forces
In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women to serve as full and permanent members of the military. This groundbreaking move opened doors for women in all branches.
Women served in various roles during the Vietnam War, as nurses, intelligence officers, and support personnel. Their dedication saved lives and provided vital assistance.
Barriers Broken in Combat
The 1990s saw the opening of combat roles to women in many branches. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense lifted the ban on women serving in ground combat positions, expanding opportunities further.
Women have achieved historic firsts throughout military history. From Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the first director of the Women’s Army Corps, to General Ann E. Dunwoody, the first woman to achieve the rank of four-star general, these trailblazers have demonstrated that excellence knows no gender.
Service in the Global War on Terror
Women have played pivotal roles in the Global War on Terror, serving as pilots, medics, engineers, and more. Since 9/11, an historic 300,000+ women have served in the military. This time was marked by many firsts, including the first female graduates from the Army Ranger school, the first women in combat, and the first woman to become a four-star general, and the first Black woman to become a four-star admiral.
U.S. service academies, including West Point and the Naval Academy, have welcomed women, providing them with top-tier military education and the opportunity to excel. Women were first admitted to the service academies in 1976, and the first service academy classes to graduate with women followed in 1980.
Service Beyond the Military
Women are the fastest-growing population of Veterans. Today, women make up 10% of the entire Veteran population.
This is a remarkable increase from 2000, when women made up just 6% of the Veteran population. Estimates project that by 2035, women will make up 15% of the Veteran population. This growth means that more women veterans are entering the civilian workforce with well honed leadership skills and rich experience.
Women Veterans offer diverse perspectives and an excellent ability to problem-solve, which ultimately bolsters adaptability and innovation. Their increased representation fosters a culture of inclusivity and equity. Ultimately, Women Veterans serve as essential role models, inspiring future generations of young girls to pursue challenging career paths, including military service.
9 Remarkable Women Veterans
The military is full of valiant, incredible, courageous Women who have served our nation selflessly. Some paid the ultimate price. Whether they have made history as a “First” or stood on the shoulders of the Women before them, Women Veterans have blazed trails and inspired more to follow.
So, on Veterans Day 2023, we recognize those Women Veterans who have left an indelible mark on our culture and nation:
Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby
As the first director of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), Colonel Hobby led the way for thousands of women to serve in non-combat roles. Her unwavering dedication and advocacy expanded the roles of women in the armed forces for years to come.
Lieutenant Susan Ahn Cuddy
Although she faced skepticism about enlisting in the military, Lieutenant Cuddy kept persisting. After multiple attempts, she enlisted in the Navy in 1942, joining one of the first group of WAVES. Lieutenant Cuddy was the first female Asian American Naval officer, and she was also the Navy’s first female gunnery officer.
Major General Marcelite J. Harris
Major General Harris was the first female aircraft maintenance officer and the first Black female General in the Air Force. Maj. Gen. Harris received the Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Service Medal.
Captain Linda L. Bray
Captain Bray made history as the first woman to lead U.S. troops in combat during the invasion of Panama. At the time, women did not formally serve in combat roles. But Captain Bray valiantly led a combat team of both men and women in a successful mission. She was awarded the Army Commendation Medal of Valor.
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Vaught’s resume includes many “firsts.” She was the first to deploy with a Strategic Air Command bombardment wing on an operational deployment, the first woman officer to attend the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the first 1-star woman comptroller officer. Later, her efforts led to the creation of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
Colonel Eileen M. Collins
Colonel Collins made history as the first female Space Shuttle pilot and commander. Her service included piloting the space shuttles Discovery and Atlantis. Later, she became the first female commander of the space shuttle Columbia.
Command Sergeant Major Mildred C. Kelly
Command Sergeant Major Kelly was the first Black woman to achieve the rank of Sergeant Major. Just two years later, she was promoted to Command Sergeant Major, establishing her place in history as the first woman to hold the highest enlisted rank in the Army at a major Army Installation.
Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester
Sergeant Hester’s bravery in combat during the Iraq War highlights the heroism of Women Veterans. She received the Silver Star, becoming the first woman since World War II to be awarded this honor. Hester’s service involved leading her unit in a fierce firefight against insurgents, saving lives and displaying exceptional courage.
Vice Admiral Michelle Howard
Vice Admiral Howard’s historic achievements as the highest-ranking Black woman in the U.S. Navy. In 1999, she became the first black woman to command a U.S. Navy combatant ship, USS Rushmore. In 2014, she became the first woman to earn a four-star rank in the Navy.
Happy Veterans Day 2023
These extraordinary Women Veterans embody the spirit of dedication, courage, and excellence. They prove that diversity strengthens our military and our nation as a whole, that when doors open and ceilings are broken, we create a brighter, bigger future for generations to come.
This Veterans Day 2023, we honor them, and we honor you. Thank you, Women Veterans, for making a difference in our nation.