||Women marine recruits at
Parris Island, SC learn to field strip the M-16A 1 rifle during
basic training, 1986.
During the 1980s, the first women cadets graduated from the service
academies and the numbers of women in the armed forces increased
dramatically to 12 percent of total personnel by the end of the
decade. Significant numbers of women now held jobs traditionally
considered male-only and women were deployed to conflict zones in
Grenada and Panama.
enlisted advisor supervises a working party on USS Grapple as
the ship tows three minesweepers to the Persian Gulf in 1988.
We have wonderful servicewomen doing extraordinary things
and doing very well, but we have taken a male institution...and
turned it into a coed institution, and it has been a traumatic exercise
for us, General John Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff stated in 1984. The effect of these servicewomen on military
readiness and mission accomplishment became a major issue of the
||Member of first-ever, all-female
parachute jump at Fort Bragg, NC, packs up her kit bag, 1980.
Debate flew between military leaders opposed to increasing women's
role in the services and civilian officials committed to strengthening
the armed forces through expanding the utilization of women and
ensuring fair treatment and professional equity for them. In the
end, the decade reflected a 1982 memorandum to the service secretaries
from Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense under President Ronald
Qualified women are essential to obtaining
the numbers of qualified people required to maintain the readiness
of our forces...While we have made progress, some institutional
barriers still exist. ..This Department must aggressively break
down those remaining barriers that prevent us from making the
fullest use of the capabilities of women in providing for our
But a major barrier to women's career advancement and usefulness
remained unanswered during the decade. Women were still excluded
from combat, the core mission of the military and a major determinant
of promotions. But the definition of combat was unclear and varied
among the services at different times and under different conditions.
Military involvement in Panama and Grenada forced the services to
re-evaluate the meaning of combat and the application of combat
exclusion laws, and to decide how to reconcile equal career opportunities
for women with combat-exclusion policies.