June 12, 2014, will mark 66 years since the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was passed by Congress, granting women permanent status in the military. It’s fair to say that women seized this opportunity and have made incredible progress throughout the ranks over the past six decades.
As the anniversary of this landmark event approaches, female service members are serving in more roles than ever before as direct ground combat military occupational specialties previously open only to men are now available to women.
Women have also played a crucial role in Operation Enduring Freedom. Over the course of this 13-year war in Afghanistan, female service members have been key in securing major gains over the course of the conflict.
By taking on new roles in theatre, the impact they’ve made is undeniable. From saving lives as doctors in the field to forecasting combat weather conditions and leading all-female engagement teams, they’re re-defining the role of the warfighter.
Female engagement teams are unique to Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Originating a little more than 10 years ago, these civil affairs teams have made a lasting impact on the wars and the Afghan and Iraqi citizens they work with.
U.S. Army Spc. Donna Diaz, assigned to 2nd Cavalry Regiment, works as a trainer on a female engagement team and she loves her job.
“It is really important to me to be a female and do the thing I love which is the military,” Diaz said. “We change the world. I love serving this country and I am proud to be a female soldier.”
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Amanda Yeakley, a battlefield forecaster assigned to Regional Command South on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, shares a similar sentiment.
“I really enjoy what I do and being in the Air Force, too. It can be overwhelming at times, but I have gotten used to it, I know a lot of people depend on me. I am proud to wear the uniform.”
Her work provides adequate weather updates as well as key atmospheric data that allow the command staff to dictate and formulate mission plans and flight schedules.
“My job is to provide current and forecasted weather to the combined joint operations center here at KAF,” she said. “Pilots and aviation assets use that information to plan missions as well, so I need to accurately provide them with the most up to date forecast as possible.”
Another area where women continue to provide a critical role is health care.
U.S. Navy Capt. Mary E. Neill is the commanding officer assigned to the NATO Multinational Medical Unit hospital on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
“In simple terms, my job is to keep people within this hospital safe,” Neill said. “I am responsible to remove or mitigate the opportunity for bad people to harm us here. Along with that, I support a world-class staff that is dedicated to trauma and treating the injured. I make sure they have everything they need to do that job.”
Not only is she saving lives but she’s also shattering glass ceilings as she goes. She’s the first female commander at the NATO MMU since its inception in 2005.
“Honestly, I don’t even think about being the first woman to serve in this position,” Neill said. “People tell me that or ask me that all the time, and I really didn’t even think about it until I got here. I’m no longer surprised, and that says a lot about how far we’ve come.”
Neill’s perspective on her success is testament in and of itself to the progress military women have made since 1948. One can only imagine the progress they’ll make in the next 66 years to come.
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