By Allison Kirschbaum

Today, military women have faced a significant shift in roles, especially in combat positions. Gone are the days when women were strictly assigned to the office to do paperwork. Now, more women are breaking barriers to prove they can serve the front lines. This rise of women in the military is a massive step in the progression of the Army and the acceptance of women for equality. As more of them are joining the ranks of combat units, women only prove that they are effective and capable of doing the job.

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Roles of Women in the Military Through Time

Getting into the military if you're a woman a few centuries ago was difficult. In the 18th and 19th centuries, women were not allowed to join the armed forces. They either did clerical jobs, such as nursing aids, cooks, seamstresses, or laundresses. However, this gender barrier did not stop some of them from becoming spies, and the most famous is Nancy Hart.

Approximately 400 women were enlisted secretly disguised as men during the Civil War. These women in the military worked to sneak information past unsuspecting British troops.

Fast-forward to World War II, when the Women's Army Corps was established, and more positions opened for military women. When the WAC became part of the Army, they worked as ground, air, and service forces, doing cryptography and repairing radio equipment. They also filled the medical and surgical technicians' positions instead of nurses.

However, in 1978, the WAC was removed when female and male forces were integrated. In 1980, 62 military women graduated as second lieutenants. This impact slowly opened doors for women seeking careers in military service.

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Women's Advancements in Military Ranks

For several decades, the military has faced a downward trend in recruitment. Some declines followed after the Cold War, Gulf War participation, and the 9/11 attack. However, an upward trend was seen with the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, thus allowing more military women to get involved. Over the past 50 years, gender dynamics have changed, with more women serving in the military.

According to reports, 1.34 million women and men served on active duty in 2017. Surprisingly, 16% of women represent the overall active-duty force—a much higher data since 1980, only 9% and 1% in 1970.

Also, women in the military have seized mostly high-ranking posts. In 1975, 5% of commissioned officers were women; by 2017, this had spiked to 18%, showing that they were more capable in higher and complicated ranks.

Today, women can quickly join the military if they pass the requirements. Military women hold a wide range of impactful roles in combat positions, command and leadership, intelligence and cyber operations, aviation and aerospace, and engineering and technical fields, to name a few.

Plus, the population of women in military positions is continually increasing. According to the U.S. Department of Defense annual demographics report, as of November 2023, the number of women on active duty increased to 17.5%, and the selected reserve is now 21.6%. Over the past 19 years, active duty military women have risen by 2.9%, while the selected reserve has jumped by 4.4%.

Empowering Women in Uniform

Women have come a long way to have a spot in the military and use their skills to serve the country. However, plenty of work remains to be done to encourage more women in the military and ensure that their opportunities and experiences are the same as those of males who serve. But if they work hand in hand, the country will have a more robust military.

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