Women in the Military: How times have changed

When I was graduating from college, I badly wanted to become a Marine fighter pilot. I was not too tall, not too short, had perfect vision, was healthy, and could pass the math required. Unfortunately for me, I was a female, so no-go. Instead, I became a CIA officer. Spying was an acceptable career for a woman. (No comments from the peanut gallery about the traits in women that make us great spies.) Today I could wear those pilot’s wings and go into combat. What an amazing world!

Strangely enough, women have fought in combat before and society survived. In this century there were uniformed combat female troops that fought in World War II in the Soviet Union. At that time, women were much more equal in the communist society than in the capitalist. They were successful as tank drivers, anti-aircraft battery operators and as combat pilots. There were two female aces – Lydia Litvyak and Katya Budanova, who served in the Red Air Force 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment.

My mother, Marie Gilson, USMC Captain, 1952 Coca Cola Poster.

My mother, Marie Gilson, USMC Captain, 1952 Coca Cola Poster.

The move to completely integrate women into the military will clearly take some time and finesse. Each branch has to come up with a plan (and a list of exceptions if they wish) by 2016. Of course, for awhile, there will be positions where women will still be excluded, but since there are already female MPs, pilots, truck drivers, I can guarantee that soon there will be no difference whatsoever in who fills what job.

A skeptic might point out that some of this might be due to the fact that we have an all-voluntary military and a shrinking budget and a growing, highly-educated female populace. This mixture means that for the military to continue to be the best of the best, it needs to expand the pool and take anyone who has the qualifications and is willing to make the sacrifices to be in uniform. It is not an easy life style as anyone from a military family can tell you. It is low pay for a similar level in the civilian world, is very hard on families, and frequently requires one risking one’s life. If there are women who want to take this on if they can physically be in the war zone, the military is being pragmatic in expanding the pool.

Like the intelligence business, people outside the “club” sometimes have trouble understanding the mentality that drives the individuals who voluntarily join. It often runs in families (Both my parents were Marines.) Sometimes one is inspired by an event — such as 9/11 — or by a mentor. There is no certainty as to where the willingness to serve in combat begins. But the U.S. has recognized that women also have this willingness and will bring a whole new set of skills.

Once again, the armed services lead our society in integration — first it was fully integrating racially; then sexual orientation; now it is mixing both sexes. So many people assume that the military is extremely conservative. In the cases of societal acceptance, it seems they tend to be the most pragmatic and progressive. Amusing, isn’t it?

Now before I hear from those who think it will be distracting and difficult to implement, I know that. There will be growing pains. Remember when they first allowed women on submarines? We have survived that. We have survived a woman pilot being shot down behind the lines in the Gulf. It took a while to desegregate the military as well. But it will eventually be so common that the next generation will wonder what the hoopla was all about. Just like I wonder why it was ever an issue for women to go away to college.

Times change. I just have to smile over the fact that it is the military that so often leads us into the future. Semper Fi, Marines!

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3 Responses to Women in the Military: How times have changed

  1. Ranger, William says:

    Excellent article…and one the deadliest and most prolific snipers in WW II was a Russian female with over 300 kills.

  2. D Bruce says:

    Well done! I agree, excellent article with very salient points. As a woman I really don’t feel like I have to prove myself constantly in the world of ‘men’…but, then, I always wonder, what is the world of ‘men’…aren’t we all in this together using our individual skills to make the world a better and more peaceful place.

  3. Henry Thompson says:

    Jolly good email. As Mick Jagger put it: “It’s good to have a chick, occasionally.”

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