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DoD Leads the Way in Opportunities for Women

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 2, 1996 – Army Sgt. Heather Johnsen has gone where no woman has gone before.

As the first woman to guard the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Johnsen joins the ranks of women like U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Carol A. Mutter, the first woman nominated for a third star; Air Force Capt. Martha McSally, the first woman to fly combat missions; and Air Force Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander.

DoDs "first women" list has grown steadily over the decades as the department integrated women into the armed forces. Today, DoD is the nations largest employer of women, offering unparalleled career opportunities ranging from teacher to fighter pilot.

More than 90 percent of all military career fields are now open to women. Recent policy changes have removed institutional barriers, allowing the best qualified to fill key positions, said Defense Secretary William J. Perry. Since October 1993, DoD has opened about 260,000 positions in combat aviation, aboard combatant naval vessels and in artillery units, a DoD official said.

"Today, more than 500,000 women fill military and civilian positions critical to the national security mission," Perry wrote in a recently published DoD booklet, "Women in Defense -- DoD Leading the Way." The booklet outlines DoD programs and initiatives that support the objectives established at the United Nations Conference on Women held in Beijing last summer.

DoD employs about 371,000 civilian women and 195,000 active duty women. In 1973, when the all-volunteer force was enacted, uniformed women made up 2.5 percent of the force. Today, they represent 12.6 percent of the active force, 14 percent of the reserve force and 37 percent of the civilian labor force. About 19 percent of civilian midlevel managers -- GS 13-15 -- and 12 percent of the Senior Executive Service are women.

Women are also steadily moving into nontraditional career fields. In 1990, there were 187 women in technical fields such as environmental engineering. Today, about 550 women work in nontraditional career fields. More than 7,600 women work in DoDs science and engineering fields. About 186 women pilots and navigators already fly combat aircraft.

Women continue advancing in the military hierarchy. Secretary of the Air Force Sheila Widnall is the first woman to head a military department. Five women are Army generals, Five are Navy admirals, and six are Air Force generals. President Clinton recently nominated Mutter, the Marine Corps' sole female general, for a third star and assignment as the Corps deputy chief of staff for manpower and reserve affairs.

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