Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of America’s servicemen and women, simultaneously evokes both tremendous heartache and immense national pride.
At Arlington, Memorial Avenue connects Memorial Bridge to the cemetery’s gates. Several memorials that are not part of the cemetery line the avenue and, at its end, sits the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial, dedicated Oct. 18, 1997, to honor the women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the American Revolution.
It’s the only major national memorial honoring women who have defended America throughout history.
We all understand that women have played extraordinary roles in the U.S. military throughout our nation’s history, beginning in the 18th century. Especially then, at the dawn of a revolution whose outcome was far from certain, it took tremendous courage to participate in the dangerous effort to achieve independence from the crown. Courage…not only to purposely put themselves in harm’s way by taking up arms – and, in some cases, conceal their true identities – but also to stray way outside the norms of the day, in which women largely kept house and cared for their children.
We’ve long acknowledged and celebrated – rightly so – the courageous men who took part in the revolution and who have fought for America ever since, including right now as I write this. It’s well past time, though, that we ought to think of women, too, when we talk about “courage.”
And it’s why I’m supporting WIMSA’s campaign, #changingthefaceofcourage, designed to broaden the image that comes to mind when we hear the word “courage.” It’s not just a male adjective.
The campaign supports two primary goals: to educate the American public on roles and contributions of women in the military since the late-18th century revolution; and to inspire young women to consider military service as a career option - particularly with respect to leadership and STEM skills.
“Courage for women is the same as courage for men,” says IBM’s Juliane Gallina – herself a veteran.
“Women are courageous all the time. And they don’t have to be in the military to earn that designation. Real courage is ‘strength in the face of pain or grief or adversity,’” she says.
Developing and honing that strength is part of the reason why Juliane believes that military service is a terrific career option for young women. Military service provides access to leadership roles and training with support from all ranks - a literal and figurative investment in service members’ growth and development.
Juliane says the military’s focus on leadership “is quite remarkable. It’s not something that most early-career civilians have the opportunity to focus on until they get support from their managers.”
Deborah Sampson – then a teenager – disguised herself as a man to serve in the Continental Army. As “Robert Shirtliff,” she served 17 months in the Army.
More than 400 women disguised themselves as men to fight on both the Union and Confederate sides in the U.S. Civil War.
World War I
In 1917, the U.S. Navy became the first service to allow women in its ranks, enlisting more than 11,000 women to serve stateside. Loretta Perfectus Walsh became the first active-duty woman in the Navy.
World War II
Approximately 400,000 American women served with U.S. armed forces. It’s estimated that 543 died in war-related incidents – including 16 from enemy fire – even though women weren’t officially in combat roles at the time.
In June 1950, there was ONE Army nurse in Korea. By August, there were 100, and by 1951, there were 400. | At its peak, the U.S. Navy had 3,200 active-duty female nurses in Korea in July 1951. | Air Force nurses were responsible for evacuating 350,000 patients. | And peak active-duty women Marines in Korea reached 2,787. | Eighteen women – 16 nurses and two Air Force personnel – lost their lives in the Korean War.
Nearly 7,500 women served in-country during the war. About 83 percent were nurses. Eight nurses died; one was killed in action.
Desert Shield/Desert Storm
The largest deployment of military women in U.S. history, with more than 40,000 women deployed over the course of operations. Fifteen women died; two were imprisoned by Iraqi forces.
Global War on Terror
On June 16, 2005, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester was awarded the Silver Star for her actions during an Iraqi firefight, marking the first time in U.S. military history that a Silver Star was awarded to a female soldier for direct combat action. In 2016, military women were given the right choose any military occupational specialty – including ground combat.