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Women’s History Month: How things have changed

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Leenette C. Joseph
  • 18th Wing Airmen Leadership School
The month of March commemorates Women's History Month. It is a time to reflect on women's extraordinary contributions, especially those made to the U.S. Armed Forces.
Women have come a long way since 1948 when Congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. 

In the beginning, women were automatically discharged if they became pregnant; female officers could not progress beyond the grade of O-5; and women could only hold supervisory positions over other women. Also, women were were not selected for any combat positions. These were a few among many other provisions. Additionally, women could make up no more than 2 percent of the total enlisted ranks. 

Doors opened gradually over the past four decades. In 1967, the 2 percent cap on enlisted women and some other restrictions on promotions were lifted. 

In 1972, the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) was opened to women. In 1976, women were allowed to enter service academies; and in 1990, two women were the first to lead their units into combat in Panama. 

In 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, large numbers of women moved forward with their units into combat zones. Lt. Col. Eileen Collins became the first female pilot and first female commander of a space shuttle mission in 1995. 

Today, many more women are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East as part of the war against terrorism. 

Women's roles in the military and their overall participation in the armed forces has increased dramatically. The number of women in the military has more than doubled in the last decade and it continues to grow. Out of the 325,725 members currently on active duty in the Air Force, women make up 19.57 percent. That is 63,760 women, in which 18 percent are officers and 20 percent are enlisted members. 

The armed forces has opened many careers to women, many of which they could only have dreamed to be part of 15 years ago. They are more involved in operational fields than ever before instead of only being assigned to administrative and medical fields as previously designated. The Air Force is the pioneer in this area; 99 percent of Air Force careers are now open to women and they have become a vital part of the service.
Currently there are 568 female pilots, 234 female navigators and 145 air battle managers. And we cannot forget the tremendous contributions and support we receive from the civilians who make up 33 percent of the civil service workforce. 

Since 1987, each March has been dedicated to the celebration of women's history and their accomplishments. This year is no different. Once again, we remember and say "thank you" for what you do.