The contributions of military women throughout history were highlighted yesterday during remarks at the Pentagon’s Women’s History Month observation.
The nation depends upon women, both military and civilian, at all levels of the Defense Department, from the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan to the upper echelons of military command, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during the celebration.
“For over 230 years, American women have served with distinction on the battlefield, even when they have had to do so in secret,” he said.
In World War II, more than 300,000 women volunteered for service, and about 1,000 Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as WASPs, flew more than 60 million miles in nearly every type of aircraft and role, he said. These women, however, were denied benefits until 1977.
Earlier this month, WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their wartime service, a “belated recognition of the debt that we owe these and many other patriotic women,” Gates said.
Speaking about the present, Gates talked about Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown, who in 2007 served as a medic in Afghanistan when her convoy was ambushed by insurgents. She braved mortar and small-arms fire to aid soldiers wounded by a homemade bomb. Brown is credited with saving the lives of five soldiers and she was later awarded the Silver Star, Gates said.
Gates also noted the contributions of women at the highest levels of military command, including the U.S. military’s first female four-star general, Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, who leads 66,000 men and women of Army Materiel Command.
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, and Christine Fox, director of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office were among civilian leaders Gates praised.
“All of these women, and many here in this audience, have volunteered to serve our nation during times of great peril both past and present,” Gates said. “Their example teaches us to persevere in the face of adversity and also to realize that all Americans willing to serve can make magnificent contributions.”
Following Gates’ remarks, Air Force Lt. Col. Nicole M.E. Malachowski, the first female member of the Air Force Thunderbirds, spoke about her predecessors in military aviation.
“These World War II vanguards moved everybody forward, unknowingly shaping the environment that I would inherit and generations of other women military aviators,” she said.