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Persian Gulf War

En route to duty stations in the Gulf

Operations Desert Shield and Storm (1990-1991) were the largest deployments of military women in the history of the United States. More than 40,000 women were deployed. Fifteen were killed and two were imprisoned by Iraqi forces. Media coverage revealed how completely U.S. servicewomen integrated into almost every military unit.

Moving weaponry off transport

On the evening news, Americans saw military women in the Persian Gulf War transporting troops and supplies. A woman led a company of Chinook helicopters into Iraq on the first day of the ground war. Women served aboard Navy hospital ships and destroyer tenders. They commanded units from graves registration detachments to battalion-sized material management centers.

Repairing a truck in the desert.

Others drove trucks, established communications systems, dug bunkers, flew jet tankers, refueled bombers and fighters in midair, launched Patriot missiles and endured enemy attack. They guarded POWs, lived with, worked with and commanded male soldiers.

Briefing then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell

“Women proved they were able to work beside men and get the job done,” reported one Army Reserve major. The operation established new frontiers for women in combat even though federal law prohibited women from serving in direct combat and barred Navy and Air Force women from combat ships and aircraft.

A Blackhawk helicopter pilot and Executive Officer of a lift battalion in her quarters

When the troops of Desert Storm began coming home, there were celebrations, fanfare, yellow ribbons and an appreciative, flag-waving public. Congress began rescinding the statutory restrictions which had banned servicewomen from combat aircraft and vessels.

Aboard the USS Acadia

Currently, servicewomen serve aboard every kind of military aircraft and naval vessel with the exception of submarines and no law bans women from armed combat—although the Army still maintains policies which limit women's combat exposure.