Today is just another day for most.
But June 12th marks a life changing event for myself and my sisters in service. That’s because it was on this day in 1948 that President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women to serve in the regular armed forces at all times. Prior to this act, women were restricted to special women’s components during wartime, such as in the Women’s Army Corp (WACs), the Navy’s Women Accepted for Voluntary Service (WAVES) unit, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), and the other military branch specific organizations.
These women’s units were disbanded at peacetime since women were not allowed to serve in the military outside of wartime. At the end of the war, the highly trained and skilled women were told to pack up and go home. However, during World War II women had filled vital roles that helped America win the war and ensured that democracy prevailed. These women had proved their worth and military leaders had taken note. The commanders knew that the women were indispensible and did not want to lose the skills and expertise when the women returned home. So, the military leaders pressured President Truman to take action and the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed in to law.
However, this did not lead to a glut of women in the military, not necessarily because women did not wish to serve, but because a cap was placed. The new act required that women make up no more than 2% of the military. This limit would remain until the military draft was lifted in 1973.
When the era of compulsory military service for men with the creation of the All-Voluntary Force, the military needed volunteers from a larger pool of the population and began actively recruiting women. Just like during wartime, women answered the call to service, increasing their numbers from 2 % of the military in 1973 to 9% by 1983. Today, women make up roughly 15% of the military. Like me, many of the women serving joined the Air Force, which boasts the highest percentage of women at 20%. But women serve in all branches, and thanks to the recent changes by the Department of Defense, women serve in all military specialties. This means women serve as pilots, submariners, and infantry members.
The Air Force has now had multiple missions with all female aircrews bringing supplies and troops in support of our military missions world-wide. Recently the second Navy submarine welcomed women aboard. Women are now filling once restricted combat roles in the Army and the Marine Corp.
Things have definitely changed for the women in the military since 1948. Women are no longer restricted in their numbers nor are they barred from positions. I think of the extraordinary women I served with: nurses, pilots, aircraft maintainers, intelligence specialists, and so many others. I am beyond grateful that so many years ago, President Truman saw our worth to the nation and allowed us to serve.
I am thankful for the opportunities the military has provided me. The military has been called a great equalizer, where you can be judged on your merit, and this has been my experience. However, it would be naïve to ignore the fact that there is work to be done when it comes to fully integrating, and respecting, women in the service. But, as they have since the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was first created, I am confident things will continue to improve and that many more women will become my sisters in service.
I look forward to being with so many of them at the Ohio Women Veterans Conference where we will come together for fellowship and friendship in Columbus on August 10th to celebrate the fact that #SheServedToo.
Theresa Schroeder Hageman is with the Ohio Women Veterans Advisory Commitee