As a woman who has made a career of the military (US Navy), I cannot let this moment pass without recognition. Even without Secretary Panetta’s announcement tomorrow, there were very few jobs a woman in the Navy could not be assigned to in the year 2013. In the Army and the Marines, I understand this has been more of a disparity. Still, over the last ten years we have heard story after story of women who have done extraordinary things on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, I was on watch onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln almost 10 years ago at the beginning of Iraqi Freedom, and remember the intel coming in that a female solider had been taken Prisoner, Jessica Lynch. I bring her up because I’d bet most people remember that night. That was 10 years ago. Try to tell her and her fellow friend and Solider, Lori Piestewa, who lost her life that night, that they were not in combat.
I was a little naive when I joined the Navy in 1990, and remain a little too idealistic today, but I was absolutely shocked when I was a Seaman in my “A” School, and they told me I could not go on a ship. (In my field, our only sea going jobs were on Combat Ships like Cruisers and Destroyers.) I wanted to scream, “You idiots! Then, why did you even let me choose this rating in the Navy?!?” After my initial schooling, I ended up going to the Azores Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for three years. I could not complain, those were great years, but I couldn’t believe I was not on a ship! It was not until 1996 with the Navy began the “Women at Sea” program where they began taking the first tenuous steps toward where we are today. A friend of mine, Lisa, was one of those lucky women who got to go to sea for a week. She tells stories about that adventure all the time, how everyone was terrified of her. Another friend of mine, Paula, was actually one of the first women permanently stationed on a ship in our rating. She was tough enough to handle it and ended up having a great experience. That was only 17 years ago.
At this point, the Navy is more diverse than I have ever known it, the force is intelligent and professional and we are growing better all the time.
Now, here we are, 2013. Tomorrow the Secretary of Defense will lift the restriction of women in combat for the military. Finally, after women have served secretly in the American Revolution, the Civil War and more and more outwardly through countless engagements up and into the present. The door has been opened. Ladies, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines – you have asked for this, you have earned this, you deserve this. We’ve come a long way. Let’s show ’em what we are made of!