In 1990, women comprised 11 percent of active
duty military personnel and 13 percent of reserve forces., Despite
their expanded numbers, women's roles in large-scale military operations
remained unclear and untested.
||Aboard transit deploying
to the Persian Gulf as the non-commissioned officer in charge
of the liaison cell to the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade,
But in January 1991, more than 33,000 servicewomen
deployed to Southwest Asia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert
Storm and the role of women in the military passed another milestone.
Faces in the news were those of women at war working as soldiers
side-by-side with their male colleagues and often in command roles.
The media covered the sacrifices and challenges of leaving their
families and interviewed husbands and children, proud of their mothers
and wives. The American public responded favorably to this image.
Desert Storm proved that servicewomen could not
be kept safe simply by classifying some jobs as non-combat positions
and assigning women to those jobs. Thirteen servicewomen were killed
and two were prisoners-of-war. As Army Sergeant Barbara Bates put
it, When the shells start coming downwind, I will be counting
on my flak jacket for protection, not my [job title].
||Aboard the USS Sylvania
during Operation Desert Storm, 1990.
The war also emphasized the difficulty of separating
combat and noncombat jobs. Women piloted and crewed planes and helicopters
over the battle area, directed and launched Patriot missiles, manned
machine guns and guarded bases from terrorist attack. There were
no clear front lines in the desert and as combat zones shifted,
women often found themselves in the thick of the action.
As a result of Desert Storm, by the middle of
the decade, women had dented the combat barrier. In December 1991,
President George Bush signed the National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Years 1992 and 1993 which included a provision to
repeal the 43-year-old legal barriers on women flying combat missions
in the Air Force, Navy, and Marinesand the Army by inference.
The Act included authorization to suspend of gender-based restrictions
on sea and land combat roles. Women were assigned to aircraft and
naval vessels engaged in combat missions. By the turn of the century,
they comprised almost 14 percent of active military duty personnel
and were reaching the highest levels of command.
||A Navy nurse and Air Force
JAG officer prepare for a medal ceremony during duty in Croatia
After Desert Storm, the American military responded
to hot spots around the globe and servicewomen remained an integral
part of that response. Working alongside the troops of other nations
or under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) or the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO), US servicewomen and men deployed to
Bosnia-Herzogovina, Macedonia, Haiti, Rwanda, Guatemala and other
countries. These were peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief
At home, they shepherded the military through
the largest downsizing in five decades, running military installations
and supervising base closures. Servicewomen were integral to military
research and development and to protecting the nation's institutions
and resources. More were promoted to senior officer and enlisted
ranks and the services promoted the first women to three-star rank.
While issues of equal opportunity for women in
the military still remain, the distance was staggering between the
servicewomen in 1999 and the Army nurses of 1901 who served their
country before they could even vote.
As a result of the progress of the 1990s, women
are now excluded from only nine percent of Army rolesalthough
that figure represents nearly thirty percent of active-duty positions.
In the Air Force, 99 percent of all occupations are open to women;
and in the Navy, women are only excuded from submarines and SEAL