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Female Soldiers and Veterans

Updated on August 18, 2017

We Are Modernizing

Female Marines

Women in Combat

People are uncomfortable with the idea of women serving in armed combat. The reality is that women have served in armed combat throughout all of history. Even in the Victorian era where a woman's place was supposed to be only in the home and taking care of kids women still served on the front lines during the Civil War. Often they get ignored for what they do for our country by putting their lives on the line to protect our country and fight evil in the world. They have a much harder time getting any type of recognition or respect for what they have done because, unfortunately, many people think that only men should be allowed to serve in times of war. However things are changing and we are seeing more women enter armed combat alongside men than what has previously been accepted or recorded in most of history.

Female Soldiers in the U.S. Army

Soldier and Politician

Wounded Warrior

On the date of November 12, 2004, Army Captain Tammy Duckworth was a co-piolot on the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter when it was hit by a grenade propelled by a rocket fired by Iraqi insurgents. She lost both of her legs and almost her entire right arm as well. During her first week at the hospital she was in so much pain she would count to sixty over and over again because she thought that she could not make it through the day but she would tell herself, "I can make it through 60 seconds". It was during this time that Sergeant First Class Juanita Wilson came in to the Intensive Care Unit and looked at her and said, "I know you are hurting. It will get better. Can I stand here for you?" After that, she took off her artificial arm and stood next to her bed day after day as she counted out the minutes. Duckworth said that this woman radiated a peace and serenity for her that kept her going. There are many other stories of American women and other women fighting on the front lines. When Duckworth was asked about a ban on women in combat in the United States she described it as unrealistic under the conditions of modern war-fare.

Major L. Tammy Duckworth

Sheep Dog

Statistics on Women in the Armed Services

These statistics were taken from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs as of December 23, 2013.

  • 214,098 women; or 14.6% of active duty personnel were women.
  • Army: 76,694 women; or 13.6 % of active duty personnel were women.
  • Marine Corps: 13,677 or 6.8 %.
  • Navy: 53,385 or 16.4 %.
  • Air Force: 63,552 or 19.1%.
  • Coast Guard: 6,790 or 15.7 %
  • 1,853,690 veterans were female.
  • 1 woman was taken prisoner in the civil war
  • 90 women were taken prisoner during World War II.
  • 2 women were taken prisoner during Desert Storm.
  • 3 women were taken prisoner during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"As Marines, we are the first to speak for peace, because no one can hate war more than the people who must fight it."

Female Soldier

Female Marines

Lance Corporal Charrie Blais and Priscilla Kispetick were Marines serving in Iraq. They would look for improvised explosive devices that insurgents set up to kill Marines and other armed personnel. The male Marines and the two female Marines would go into people's houses looking for weapons that would be used against them. The women and children would be terrified of the male Marines until they saw the two female Marines. They would calm down at the sight of the two females. Upon searching one house, a thirteen-year-old girl was crying hysterically while talking in Arabic. Blais did not speak Arabic so she sat next to her and tried to console her in English. The Iraqi girl came out in perfect English, "Why do you love Bush?" Blais did not know how to answer that. The girl probed further, "No, why?" Blais explained that she did not love Bush but since he was her Commander in Chief or her boss she had to follow his orders because her loyalty was to her country. On another night, when the Marines were staying in an abandoned school most of the men were relaxing and the two females were writing in a journal and listening to music when they were attacked. The staff Sergeant needed two people to accompany him into the classroom that was hit by rocket propelled grenades. Blais said that she would go. Upon finding a dead Marine who was killed by glass that punctured his lungs she was stationed at a window where she was told to shoot anyone with a gun. She spotted a man wearing a white robe with an AK-47. She was told to shoot him. She fired two shots hitting him in the leg. When he fell to the ground and started moving towards his weapon, she fired the two shots that killed him. After her first kill, Blais felt a mixture of emotions about it. She was praised for having done what she did. She felt closer to her deceased father who was a Vietnam veteran. However, she also felt a real sense of guilt realizing that this person probably had a wife and kids. Yet, this person proved that she could be both fierce and kind at the same time.

Women who Are Marines

Amy McGrath

Marine Captain Amy McGrath

When Amy McGrath was 12-years-old and attending St. Pius Middle School in Northern Kentucky, she decided she wanted to be a fighter pilot. The family of one of her classmates laughed at the idea because aviation was not open to women at that point in time. Upon her graduating from Notre Dame Academy in Northern Kentucky, she entered the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. In 1997, she was the first woman accepted into the class. Upon her figuring out she did not have 20/20 vision and could not be a fighter pilot, she chose to be a weapons' systems operator. She would be the one coordinating the Jet's weapons which included heat-seeking Sidewinders and AMRAAMs. She could have chosen any branch in the military. However, she chose the Marine Corps. Historically, the F-12 was one of the least favorable aircrafts for female aviators due to its aggressive role in combat which included dog fighting, air-to-air combat, and of course dropping bombs. The path to becoming a fighter pilot or weapons' systems operator for the Marines has the most challenging physical ground training out of all the military branches. It wasn't until March of 2001 when McGrath and Jaden Kim joined the Green Knights. These two women were the first women to become members of the squadron. The call signs or nicknames that are given to the young aviators by older aviators is a way of humbling them before building them up. Originally McGrath was called "Chia" which was short for Chia Pet due to her curly hair. Then she was called "Guns" due to her extremely aggressive behavior during air-to-air training flight, and eventually "Krusty" in reference to her hair and the character of Krusty the clown on the Simpsons. Kim was named, "Mulan" do to her being Asian. When McGrath joined the all-male team whose members behave much like guys do in a guys' locker room, she fit right in and gained a reputation as an extremely competent competitor, aviator, and go-getter. When September 11th, 2001 happened and the United States entered war, the Green Knights deployed to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, just North of Afghanistan. When the team first got overseas, arguments broke out because the male Marines did not think women should serve in armed combat. However, in March, 2002, McGrath became the first female Marine to fly in an F/A-18 in combat. During the next six months, McGrath flew 8 to 9 hour flights in Afghanistan. It was soon noticed that McGrath could pull her own weight. Her supervisors decided toward the end of her deployment that she had gained a very good proficiency at dog fighting and this qualified her to have the opportunity to train to be an air combat instructor. She would either attend the Navy's TOPGUN school or the Marines' Weapons Tactics Instructor School. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, the squad she was in flew round-the-clock missions for a period of three months straight. She originally thought she was going to keep track of how many bombs she dropped. However, it soon became a blur in her mind. In 24 days, McGrath flew by herself 37 missions. She was flying multiple flights each day with every flight being two to three hours and dropping bombs on insurgents. Flying was a dangerous job. The insurgents had surface-to-air missiles accompanied by anti- aircraft artillery. She knew every time she flew that if her plane was shot down she would be raped and killed. When people say that a woman should not be a fighter pilot because there is more the enemy can do to torture a woman than there is a man, she replied, "It's going to be as shitty for guys as it is for women. It's war. Horrible things happen." Upon the end of her being at war, McGrath had completed more than 85 combat missions and 350 combat flight hours over Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. However, like many combat veterans her returning home was also a hard battle.

"The Killing aspect is hard. It's also very difficult for me to talk about. There really isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of the human toll. No matter what side, we're all human."

— Marine Captain Amy McGrath

Medic Badge

Navy Lieutenant Estella Salinas

Estella Salinas was the daughter of migrant workers who traveled with their family to find work and struggled to feed their 15 children. When the time came that Estella was able to join her siblings working in the fields she did. How old she was is unknown because her family was too poor to celebrate birthdays. Working ten to twelve hour days with her whole family paid barely enough to keep her family alive. When she was a kid she had no idea what she wanted to do as an adult. The only thing she knew was that she did not want to repeat the cycle of poverty that went on in her family. So, after high school, she joined the military. She first started on a ten-year career as an air force mechanic. After she had enlisted, the Air Force sent Salinas to England where she met her future husband and started a family. However, the marriage soon ended in divorce. Upon the divorce, she still had four more years to go in the Air Force. She needed a plan to be able to support herself and her four kids so she enrolled in a nursing school upon returning to the United States. She knew with a nursing degree she was almost guaranteed a job whether it was in the military or not. When she was finally deployed to Iraq as a medic for the Navy she became the division officer of three extremely busy holding wards for Bravo Surgical Company. This company was a medical unit that followed around the Marines when they headed into combat. When the time came that a Marine arrived in Salina's ward, he had already been anesthetized and had an operation. Some of them had amputations and other ailments. Once they woke up, it was Salina's job to tell them that their friends did not make it. She knew the truth was very hard to tell. But, she knew it was her job. They treated Iraqis as well as the Marines due to the rules made by the Geneva Convention. Due to the fact that most of the fighting went on at night, that is when most of the casualties arrived. To try to keep a good separation between the wounded and the dead, Bravo Surgical Company had a row of deceased people at the end of the tent away from where there were recovering Marines. The hardest to deal with was the expectant ward, or a ward for those who were expected to die. Salina tried to not remember the faces of dying Marines. She treated them with the same respect she would one of her own parents as they told her stories for their own family and she held their hands. The hardest to see die were the nineteen-year-olds and the twenty-year-olds who had a full life ahead of them and then died so young. However, Salina worked around the clock taking care of these people.

"No matter how much it sucked over there-and it did suck over there- I'd go through all that crap again to be able to hold one person's hand and provide a little bit of comfort. Millions of Americans do the right thing. I'm just one person in that million."--Navy Lieutenant Estella Salinas

Women in Combat

The Women's Protection Unit

In other countries, even those where there is the most danger women are fighting on the front lines. Thousands of young Kurdish women are joining the group the Women's Protection Unit or the Y.P.J. in Northern Syria. It is strongly affiliated wit the P.K.K., a group fighting for the rights of Kurdish people in Turkey. They are battling Daesh, who has seized large territories of Iraq and Syria. The young women who join this group get six hours of sleep a night as they wake up at 4 A.M. They recruit young women ages 18 to 24. Daesh is very afraid of these women because they believe that if they are killed by a woman, they will not go to heaven. A popular phrase among the Kurdish is " Sehid na Merin" which translates as "The matyr will never die".

Kurdish Women Soldiers against DAESH


In conclusion, more women are joining the front lines than has ever been previously recorded in history. As we are modernizing and allowing more women to join whatever they want to in the armed services, we will see much change in the world as we know it. The Women's Rights movement didn't really take effect until the 1970's when young women started enrolling in greater numbers in universities. There are many fears and doubts that go through my mind as well as other peoples as this change in history is being made. However, as you have read about and seen in this blog, more and more women are going into armed combat.

Book on Women Warriors

Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq
Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq

Most of the information I got for this blog was from this book.



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