Updating the Military with First Women

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 3.58.28 PM       In August, 2015 Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver completed the Army’s Ranger School. Now Captain Griest has just been named an infantry officer, the First Woman to be admitted to this specialty in the Army. This was made possible by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s decision to open all branches and specialties to women.

This opportunity is important, not just in giving women more freedom in choose how they wish to serve, but also in providing women access to the specialties that routinely lead to a path for moving up the ranks. Although some women have reached the senior ranks in the military, it has been more difficulty for women as their opportunities to distinguish themselves in certain positions have been limited.

According to the Army Times, this is only the beginning.

        More women are expected to follow in her footsteps; The Army earlier this month announced that is had approved requests from 22 female cadets to enter as second lieutenants in the infantry and armor branches. . .

         In addition the Army has an eight-week application window so that female lieutenants can apply to be transferred to the infantry. To use a military metaphor, the wall has been breached.

Diana Holland – First Commandant of Cadets at West Point

WEST POINT INSIGNIAThe Superintendent of West Point just swore in the First Woman Commandant of Cadets. Brigadier General Diana Holland will be responsible for training the elite cadets who are usually first in line for promotions into the higher ranks of the Army. A graduate of West Point (and Holland is one) usually holds this position, but Holland’s path there might have been a bit unique. When Holland was eight years old when she told her father she wanted to go into the military. The academies were only beginning to admit women, but her father told her to set her sites on West Point so she would have a leg up on her career. Holland, who has served in Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan, previously returned to West Point as an instructor in history.

Her appointment follows on the heels of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter‘s announcement that in the future women are entitled to fill any role in the military for which they qualify. Holland’s appointment was underway when this occurs so the juxtaposition may be accidental, but its significance is reinforced by the timing of the two events.

The Superintendent of the Academy recognized other women in the audience, in particular two other First Women. Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, who completed the Army’s strenuous Ranger training last year, are also graduates of West Point.

Future First Women in the Military

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 10.34.57 AMDefense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has announced that all combat roles in our military will be open to women. This is a critical move for women as the progression up the line of command to the higher ranks often goes through the assignments that are currently denied to women. It also means there will be many First Women earning positions in the military over the next few years.

It strikes me that this situation is emblematic of many situations involving First Women. It takes a woman of grit to move into male territory, and sometimes it also takes a man. Men, after all, were, and to some extent still are, in power and it is sometimes their decisions that make firsts possible.

This action by Carter took some courage on his part. He had the support of the Army, Navy, and Air Force but not the Marines. This might not have mattered but the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph E. Dunford, Jr., was former commandant of the Marine Corps, opposed to this decision, and did not stand beside Carter when it was announced.

In spite of that, Carter emphasized. “There will be no exceptions.”

His guts are matched with the achievements of United States Army’s First Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest, who completed Ranger School and proved women were capable, in spite of not knowing at the time whether they would be allowed to join a Ranger unit. Since their achievement, Maj. Lisa Jaster has also completed Ranger training. Carter said their success was part of the research that led to his decision. A confluence of women’s fortitude and a man’s daring made this possible.

I would not want my daughter to be in the military, in spite of the fact that I come from a military family. My mother, father, brother, sister, and first husband all served. Consequently, I have great respect for those who serve, but also have strong feelings about war as the solution to our problems and would prefer not to have a daughter of mine involved. However, if I had a daughter, and she was so inclined, I would not want her denied any position she is capable of earning. Secretary Carter, Lt. Haver, Capt. Griest, and Maj. Jaster led the way, and made that possible.

Griest and Haver, First Women to Complete Ranger School

NEW RANGERSLast week Captain Kristen Griest, an Apache helicopter pilot, and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, a military police officer, both completed the Army’s Ranger School, and they made the national news. Their feat pitted them against the best of the men in the military and they showed they were equal.

Revolutionary War – Women have been involved in war since this country began, as spies, as nurses, as cooks, and as water bearers. Even in the Revolutionary War women fought alongside men, although Deborah Sampson was disguised as a man and, when discovered, simply took another name and re-enlisted. Margaret Corbin received a pension for her service crewing a cannon at Fort Washington. Lucy Brewer claimed she served on the USS Constitution for three years, but she was a writer, so her words are automatically suspect.

Civil War – During the Civil War Sally Tompkins, a nurse running a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, was the first (and only?) woman commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army. Sarah Emma Edmonds, a Union spy, was the first and only woman officially inducted into the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans.

World War IIDuring the Second World War, women served their country, filling the expected roles of nurses and secretaries, but also those of strategic planners and airplane pilots. Their service was so notable that in 1948 Congress enacted a law making women a permanent part of the U.S. military services and Vietta M. Bates, in 1949, was the first enlisted woman sworn into the U.S. Army.

Post World War II – In 1972 two women, Anna May Hayes and Elizabeth P. Hoisington reached the rank of brigadier General. In 1976 the military academies, under presidential order, admitted women but it was not until 1996 that the prestigious Citadel admitted women. In 1983, when the United States invaded Grenada, 200 Army and Air Force women were among the forces deployed, as military police and transportation specialists. The armed forces began admitting women to more and more positions previously reserved to men and in 1985 Lt. Kendra Williams, USN, flew a combat mission during Operation Desert Fox in Iraq.

Post 9/11 Wars – Although many positions were still restricted to men, women were accepted in more positions and around 40,000 were deployed during the Gulf and Iraqi wars. In 2005, outside of Baghdad, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester came under attack and killed several insurgents, saving members of her convoy. She was the first woman to receive a Silver Star for valor in close quarters combat. By 2012 the military opened jobs in small units closer to the front lines to women.

In 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, signed an order stating that women must have the same opportunities in combat jobs. Now Griest and Haver may wear a special Ranger badge on their uniforms, an honor as prized as an Olympic gold medal. What they do not have yet is the right to be a member of a Ranger unit. The military is now evaluating which units can continue to exclude women.

It is hard to understand how modern people, with their intelligence and resources, still wage war. But, it is also difficult to understand why women should be excluded from participation in the endeavors of their countries, should they so choose. The Ranger website says, “Upon completion of this course, Rangers have the essential skills, training, and confidence to be members of the 75th Ranger Regiment.” Griest and Haver have proven they are worthy of membership.