Breaking the glass ceiling
When I first heard about women breaking the glass ceiling, I thought it only referred to women trying to be leaders in business. Once I joined the Navy, I learned about women who have been doing this throughout the military.
Although I never met her, I was really happy to serve on the ship where Command Master Chief Beth Lambert became the first female command master chief of an aircraft carrier.
Another Navy heroine, who I heard a lot about but never got to meet, is Adm. Michelle Howard.
She became the first female four-star admiral on July 1, 2014. On that same day, she also became the vice chief of naval operations. I’m pretty sure her appointment was due at least partly to her actions while serving as the commander of Task Force 151. For those who don’t know or maybe don’t remember, that is the anti-piracy task force. Howard was in command during the rescue of Capt. Phillips from Somali pirates. Long before that, she was the first African-American female to command a ship.
While Howard was the first female Navy four star, Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody was the first female to reach this milestone among all the services.
Dunwoody had been in the Army for a year and a half before women were even allowed to be part of the regular Army. When she got the chance to go to Airborne School, she took it. In an interview with Time magazine, Dunwoody said she wanted to “be a platoon leader – and not a female platoon leader.” She said she wanted to lead men and women. And that is exactly what she did, eventually becoming the leader for all women and men in the Army.
I could write an entire blog on the accomplishments of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper alone.
She served in the Navy Reserves during World War II. Throughout her career in and out of the Navy, she made enormous strides in computer programming. She retired from the Reserves in 1966 and came back to active duty in 1967. She even had a ship, USS Hopper (DDG 70), named after her.
Other women who have made great strides, and broke the glass ceiling for other women in service include Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander; Navy Cmdr. Darlene Iskra, the first female to command a ship; and Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally, the first female to command an Air Force fighter squadron.
The women I’ve already mentioned paved the way for other women to follow. The rest of the women I’ll talk about here made heroic strides on the battlefield.
The only woman to ever achieve the highest honor a military member can receive, the Medal of Honor, was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.
She received the award for her work as surgeon during the Civil War. Unfortunately, she also got a slap in the face when the award was revoked two years before her death, though she remained proud of everything she had done in the service and for women’s rights. Though she never saw it, justice was eventually done, and the award was restored in 1977.
To date, six women have received silver stars. The first four women, all Army, received it for their actions on Feb. 10, 1944, during the Battle of Anzio. They are 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth, 1st Lt. Mary Roberts, 2nd Lt. Elaine Roe and 2nd Lt. Rita Rourke. All four women were nurses at the 33rd Field Hospital.
Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester was the next woman to receive the honor.
As a member of the National Guard, 503d Military Police Battalion (Airborne), she is the only woman recipient without ties to Army medicine. She even had an action figure made in her likeness.
Finally, Army Pfc. Monica Lin Brown received the silver star for her actions in the Paktika province in Afghanistan, when her convoy came under fire.
Although only 18 years old at the time, Brown ignored enemy fire and went with her instincts and medical training to treat casualties.
All of these women have done great things for women in the military. There are so many more, but I thought this was a good place to start.