For International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we take this opportunity to think back—and look forward—to women’s crucial contributions to the Guard and Reserve.
Women have served in our nation’s war efforts in various non-combat capacities since the Revolutionary war. WWII saw nearly 350,000 women serve in uniform, doing so in crucial non-combat roles. There was, for example, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs, later renamed the Women’s Army Corps), the Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS), the Army Nurses Corps, and the Navy Nurse Corps.
According to an article from the National World War II Museum:
Women in uniform took office and clerical jobs in the armed forces in order to free men to fight. They also drove trucks, repaired airplanes, worked as laboratory technicians, rigged parachutes, served as radio operators, analyzed photographs, flew military aircraft across the country, test-flew newly repaired planes, and even trained anti-aircraft artillery gunners by acting as flying targets. Some women served near the front lines in the Army Nurse Corps, where 16 were killed as a result of direct enemy fire. Sixty-eight American service women were captured as POWs in the Philippines. More than 1,600 nurses were decorated for bravery under fire and meritorious service, and 565 WACs in the Pacific Theater won combat decorations. Nurses were in Normandy on D-plus-four.
Fast-forward to today: women Service members are achieving many “firsts,” made possible in 2015 when then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that all jobs in the military would open up to women—including Special Forces—as long as they met the same demanding requirements as men.
Now that this period of military history is getting underway, what and who will people remember in the future about the opening of combat roles to women? They might remember someone like Staff Sgt. Sonia Buchanan, who became the first woman to join the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, a combat unit. In an interview from last year, Buchanan remarked,
I am looking forward to mentoring young females that come into the 105th in the future. I have had the most amazing female mentors in my career, and I know I would not be where I am today were it not for their counsel and guidance.
Such a commitment to mentoring will help ensure that the batons of experience will be passed on to future generations of female Service members.
Or, they might remember 2nd Lt. Tracci Dorgan-Bandy, who became the first female artillery officer in the South Carolina National Guard. Her experience shows that opportunity abounds:
The Guard has opened so many doors for me, so many opportunities. I’ve never had anybody shut a door in my face in the Guard.
And that’s because Dorgan-Bandy has proven her mettle throughout her career, now serving her artillery unit as a Fire Direction Officer. In fact, she advocates that gender not even enter the equation, echoing the decision to open combat roles to women in the first place: “It needs to be standards-based, not gender-based.”
Such a simple equation with gender removed. Now, military leaders need only ask, “Who shows the best qualities of leadership, intelligence, skill, and grit?” Our best guess: the answer to that question will just as often be a woman as a man.