During the early 1900s, answering phone calls, maintaining records and providing minor health care were some of few roles women who served in the military were permitted to fill. Jobs left open because men left for war, gave women the opportunity to step up and volunteer on the home front.
A century later, women across the Department of Defense carry responsibilities from maintaining multi-million-dollar aircraft, leading troops through battlefields and serving in higher leadership positions.
Women’s History Month honors the hard work and contributions made in the past and present.
“Those women paved the way for me to be able to serve as a United States Air Force firefighter,” said Senior Airman Chelsea Westfall, a 31st Civil Engineer firefighter. “Because of them, I can come to work and feel like I belong. Women are no longer seen as the outsiders.”
Knowing the efforts of women in the past allow for today’s women to prevail and make their own history, not defined by their gender.
“We celebrate Women’s History Month to remember the struggles women went through to get the equalities we have today,” said Chief Master Sgt. Dorothy Olson, the 31st Operations Group chief. “We have achieved what our ancestors worked so hard for.”
Today, in the U.S. military, there aren’t many jobs women cannot volunteer for. Serving as a testament to this, John McHugh, the secretary of the Army, announced that women, for the first time, will be eligible to participate in U.S. Army Ranger School.
“Physically, there may be things that women might not be able to do,” Olson said. “But technically or academically, we are the same. The Air Force offers everyone the same opportunities. That’s the best part about being in the military — no one has to worry about whether or not a woman will be able to accomplish a task.”
Individuals like Col. Linda McTague, the first female fighter squadron commander and the Honorable Sheila Widnall, the first appointed secretary of the Air Force, have led by example and proven women can perform in non-traditional jobs.
Technical careers, equal pay and voting rights were merely dreams for women in the past, but now those dreams are constitutional rights.
“If you’re a technical sergeant, you get paid as a technical sergeant. If you want to make chief master sergeant during your career, with hard work, you are eligible to make chief,” Olson said.
According to the Air Force Personnel Center, more than 58,000 women serve in the U.S. Air Force. They have the opportunity to ensure the empowerment given to them is carried on to the next generation.
“In an ideal world, people wouldn’t focus on our gender, rather how we can be better together,” Westfall said. “We go through the same training as men. If I’m wearing a duty badge on my uniform, you should know without hesitation that I belong. We are strong women who fought to be here and we aren’t going anywhere.”
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense, ALL INDUSTRY NEWS • PROFILES • COMMENTARIES, Women in Engineering