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Myers: Women in Uniform Overcame Extra Obstacles

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2002 – Much like the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo code talkers, and Japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, women veterans had to "overcome extra obstacles just to serve their nation."

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made this pronouncement Oct. 19 at a ceremony commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Women in Military Service to America Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.

In American history, members of all these groups "required extra drive and dedication to overcome the artificial and arbitrary barriers that would block their contributions," Myers said.

Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness David S.C. Chu described one such barrier, the Armed Forces Integration Act of 1948. Chu said that act set forth that no more than 2 percent of the military could be women and that women couldn't hold any rank higher than lieutenant colonel in the Army, Air Force and Marines, and commander in the Navy.

The advent of the all-volunteer force in the 1970s shattered such constraints on women's service. Chu called this change "one of the greatest transformations of the American military or any military."

And the services are still transforming in terms of women in uniform. Chu noted that in 1991, women comprised 11 percent of the force; today, that number is 15 percent. In 1987, 3 percent of senior noncommissioned officers were women; today, 9 percent are. Also in 1987, less than 1 percent of general and flag officers were women; today, nearly 4 percent are women.

Myers related that when he joined the Air Force 37 years ago, he figured women had about as much chance of becoming fighter pilots as he had of becoming Joint Chiefs chairman.

"Well, guess what happened?" he said, to a lot of chuckling from the crowd. "At least one of those turned out to be a great move. The jury's still out on me."

The chairman noted the memorial may be fairly new, but women's service to this country is not. "As long as Americans have picked up arms to defend our land and our liberties, women have been part of that mobile defense," he said.

"So whether I'm talking about the women who serve today or the women who served in the past, they share one additional quality," Myers said. "They said they wanted only to serve the nation and defend our liberties. By their actions they demonstrated that bravery and sacrifice recognize no gender.

"America's warriors who demonstrate selfless service are not separated by gender. They are united by courage, by national heritage. They are, after all, Americans."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the Military District of Washington's Joint Service Color Guard present the colors in front of the reflecting pool at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery Oct. 19, 2002. They took part in observing the fifth anniversary of the memorial's dedication. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA crowd gathers around the reflecting pool at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery Oct. 19, 2002. They were commemorating the fifth anniversary of the memorial's dedication. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem.  
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