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NEWS | Aug. 19, 2014

Heritage Spotlight: Women's Equality Day

By Senior Airman Austin Harvill and Melissa Walther 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Since 1971, August 26 has been recognized as Women's Equality Day, marking the day the 19th Amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote. Today, women continue to make strides toward equality, and women in the military continue to serve their country with honor.

Throughout American history women have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, sometimes openly as nurses, sometimes secretly, donning the uniform of a man and taking his place in the lines. Regardless, women have been fighting for the right to fight along side their countrymen for more than a hundred years.

During World War II, women had a major impact on the success of the American war effort, from taking factory jobs to ferrying planes from the factory to bases, freeing up men to join the fight on the front lines. More than 150,000 women served in organizations such as the Women's Army Corps, the Women in the Air Force and the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and paved the way for women serving in the military.

In 1948, a major stride was made in the fight for women's equality in the armed forces with the passing of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. This act opened up military service to women outside of the nursing corps and times of war, and marked the first step to allowing women to honorably serve their country in peacetime as well as expanding their roll in military life.

The newly-created Air Force played a vital role in welcoming women into military service with many non-pilot women filling the higher ranks of leadership, like the first director of the WAF, Col. Geraldine Pratt May, who was also the first female to hold the rank of colonel in Air Force .

Although there was public opinion against women serving in the military, influential military leaders such as Gen. Douglas MacArthur said WAC's were "some of the best in the military," and described them as "dedicated, motivated and disciplined."

In 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-130, lifting grade restrictions and strength limitations on women in the military.

Women began attending service academies in 1976, and the WAF was officially disbanded the same year. In an effort to further integrate women into the Army, the WAC was disbanded in 1978 and women were integrated into the regular Army.

In 1994, women once again gained ground in the quest for equality, when a bill proposed by Secretary of Defense Leslie Aspin passed, allowing women to work in near-combat professions. This meant that women qualified for 80 percent of the jobs across the services.

On the subject of equal opportunities in combat, the final stepping stone was reached in 2013, when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta proposed changes which opened up all specialties to women.

Although the change was made, it won't take full effect until January 2016. Every service must open jobs to women unless higher leadership can unbiasedly explain why a woman should not be allowed into any position, according to the Department of Defense.

Since removing this ban, only seven Air Force Specialty Codes and 14 Army Military Occupational Specialities are closed to women. Both services are currently evaluating the physical aspects of the closed jobs, and determining how to best integrate training in a way that improves performance for everyone.