Military Progress 2019

The United States military is making progress incorporating women into its higher ranks. Slowly, but still progress. Within the last week, there have been three promotions for military women that made the news:

        Captain Dianna Wolfson, of the U.S. Navy, is the First Woman to head a naval shipyard. She was appointed as the 50thperson to command the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and began her duties last week. The shipyard has 15,000 sailors and employees. Capt. Wolfson has an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has served aboard aircraft carriers and at naval shipyards, including as operations officer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

      Brigadier General Laura Yeager is the First Woman to command an Army infantry division. This appointment is effective June 29 in the California Army National Guard. General Yeager’s career trajectory will feel familiar to many women. She is a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot who served in Iraq, but left active duty when her son was born. She balanced four children and a career in the National Guard holding leadership positions in both Texas and California.

      Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatfield is assuming the presidency of the U.S. Naval College, the First Woman president since it was founded 135 years ago. Admiral Chatfield was also a helicopter pilot, serving in Afghanistan. She has been a political science professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, then served in Guam and the Arabian Gulf. She replaces a president who is accused of abusing his position so, like many women, she will be left with cleaning up the mess.

Only 7% of the flag rank positions in the military (those at Rear Admiral or Brigadier General and above) are held by women. One might think that seems right as men far outnumber women in the military. However, women are 14% of the lower ranks, so they are not progressing in proportion to their service numbers. However, three appointments to positions of senior management announced within one week might sound like progress.

Senator Tammy Duckworth to Give Birth While in the Senate

Tammy Duckworth will be the First Woman in the U.S. Senate to give birth while in office. Senator Duckworth is surprised at the attention she has received since announcing her pregnancy. “It is somewhat ridiculous,” she says, “that it’s 2018 and this is such big news.”

In a recent interview Senator Duckworth explainedd that there is no maternity leave policy for the Senate, so she is “working with the administration of the Senate to set some of the ground rules and develop the policy. I guess when you’re the first one, you have the opportunity to really push to set what the rules are for everyone.” She might have added that First Women often see this opportunity as an obligation, to work for the women following them.

The fact is that Senator Duckworth will receive twelve weeks paid leave, but this is only because that is the policy in her own office. All her staffers are eligible for the paid leave. Other offices in the Senate set their own leave policies, and not all are as generous.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of leave for birth or adoption, but there is no mandate for employers to pay employees during the leave. For many employees this leave is unpaid. Each employer can decide how to support the benefit, and Senators are considered individual employers. Vicki Shabo, of National Partnership for Women and Families says, “Congressional staff are at the mercy of their employer and are really part of a boss lottery.”

Senator Duckworth is also a disabled veteran who served in Iraq, the First Woman double amputee in the armed services. She joins four other women serving in Congress who are combat veterans.

Duckworth will not be the First Woman to give birth while serving in Congress. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, the First African-American Woman elected to the House of Representatives from California, gave birth in office in 1973; but it was twenty-two years before another woman gave birth while in Congress. You can count on your fingers the number of births to women serving in the entire history of the Congress.

Although the numbers are small, it may be progress for an institution that did not even provide a restroom for women Senators until the 1960’s, and then only two stalls in a converted closet. As late as 2013, it required a public outcry from the twenty women Senators before they received upgraded facilities. Perhaps paid leave for childbirth, both in the Senate and in the nation, is another opportunity for public outcry from our legislative leaders. This is not a battle Senator Duckworth should have to wage alone.

Anna Mae Hays – First Woman U.S. General

General Anna Mae Hays died on January 7, 2018

When Anna Mae Hays was born, it would be another six months before a woman’s right to vote was enshrined in the Constitution. Her lifespan, over the next 98 years, is a parable of the roads women traveled during the century following the Nineteenth Amendment.

Hays was an accomplished musician who wanted to study at Juilliard, but her family could not afford this extravagance, so she pursued one of the few professions open to women at the time: nursing. When the United States joined World War II, she enlisted as a nurse, one of the few ways a woman could serve as a military officer. Her term of office, as of other women, was for the duration of the war plus six months.

During two and one-half of those years she served in Ledo, Assam, Indian. In that time her hospital, situated at the beginning of the Burma Road, treated more than 49,000 patients. She was promoted to First Lieutenant and remained on active duty after the war, once again an opportunity possible only because she was a nurse.

At Fort Dix, New Jersey, she was an operating room supervisor and later head nurse of several wards. Her days were usually twelve hours long, six days a week. She was surprised one day when she was summoned to the office and promoted to captain.

Hoping that she could finally further her education, she planned to attend Columbia University. The Korean War, however, killed that notion, when she was assigned to serve overseas. She participated in the landing at Inchon and worked in a field hospital where they served 25,000 patients in only ten months. As the Chinese and North Koreans began overrunning the area, a rapid evacuation occurred. “I can remember traveling south from Inchon to Taegu by train in the middle of the night,” she said later, “not knowing when a railroad trestle over which we traveled would be blown up.”

After several other assignments, one of which was caring for President Eisenhower during a stay at Walter Reed Hospital, she finally had the opportunity to earn her bachelor’s degree at Columbia University Teachers College. She was 38, like many women of non-traditional age who earned degrees during the twentieth century. She would later earn a master’s degree.

Hays married, but her husband died after six years. He was gone by the time, as a full Colonel and head of the Army Nurse Corps, she went to Vietnam to assess the need for nurses in the Southeast Asian conflict.

Hays was promoted to Brigadier General in 1970, the First Woman in any branch of the service to reach this rank. General William Westmoreland, former commander in Vietnam, was present when she received her star. Later Westmoreland’s wife said to Hays, “I wish you would get married again. . .I want some man to learn what it’s like to be married to a general.”

Like many women leaders during her lifetime, Hays worked long hours and was diligent in supporting women. She advocated to get them promoted, to place them in prominent places, to strengthen their qualifications, to allow them to remain on duty while they were pregnant and had children, and to assure their spouses received the same benefits as those of men.

Both the advances and disappointments of women’s journey are present in the history of Anna Mae Hay’s life. Today we can celebrate that there are 69 general officers in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, but we must also recognize the work yet to be accomplished. Women comprise only 10% of the total number of general officers.

Lt. General Michelle Johnson, Revisited

Four years ago, I wrote about Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson when she became the First Woman Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, making her the First Woman to lead any U.S. Service Academy. She had several other firsts: the First Woman cadet wing commander (the most senior ranking cadet) at the Air Force Academy, First Woman from the Academy to be inducted into the Academic All-American Hall of Fame, and the First Woman Rhodes Scholar from the Academy.

When she enrolled in the Academy, she was in the second coed class, and women comprised only 12% of the class. She says she was treated as if she didn’t belong but, now that almost one-third of the cadets are female, she says that doesn’t occur today.

Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education contained an interview with her, after four years as Superintendent—the length of one academic course of study. The interviewer focused on the challenge I mentioned in the earlier article, the need to address sexual assault at the Academy.

General Johnson confronted the issue head on. In her first address to the cadets she said, “a person of character [and Air Force officers are expected to be persons of character] doesn’t harm someone else, doesn’t violate their personal boundaries, doesn’t discriminate against somebody else.”

Johnson believes focusing on the characters of leaders she can affect change in this institution that has not only an honor code, but a commitment to producing leaders of character who treat others with respect. She believes this is possible in the Air Force because, “[In the military] If you can do the work, fly the plane—planes don’t really care what you look like or where you came from—your earn the respect of your colleagues.”

Academy graduates in all branches of service are more likely to achieve the highest ranks in the military, so we should see more women at the top in the future. Fingers crossed!

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.