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Feature Stories

NEWS | Aug. 25, 2020

Women's Equality Day – Recognizing the Norm-breaking Soldiers Who Help Lead the Force

By Story by Maj. Jean Kratzer Task Force Spartan

This Aug. 26 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote.

Bold trailblazers such as Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, were leaders in a movement that fought for women's suffrage at a national level.

According to the Department of Defense, women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 16 percent of the Army, and almost 9 percent of the Marine Corps.

Prominent women have been fighting for our country since the Revolutionary War, starting with Molly Pitcher and Deborah Sampson, an influential part of the U.S. military and its campaigns since the founding of our nation.

Transitioning to the 21,000 women who served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War I, and then the transition to World War II the WASPS, known as Women's Air Service Pilots, Women Army Corps, and the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

Or heroic heroism of the 11,000 military women that were stationed in Vietnam during the conflict, and then in 1970, Anna Mae Hays became the first female promoted to the grade of brigadier general.

And in 2008, the incredible accomplishments of Ann Dunwoody earned her the title of the first woman in the U.S. military to achieve the rank of four-star general.

In 2019 Major General Laura Yeager became the commander of the National Guard's 40th Infantry Division.

And now, as we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we recognize the women currently serving overseas in the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield, which falls under the 42nd Infantry Division.

Five women, five different roles in the U.S. Army, each accomplished leader's, successfully taking charge in multiple leadership roles, numerous deployments, and all love being in the Army and serving their country.

"This is only the beginning, women will continue to break barriers," said Capt. Jennifer Alvarez, who currently serves as the Operations Company Commander under the 42nd Infantry Division.

Each of these women agrees- they serve for the love of their country.

"The Army embodies so much of what I believe in; love of country, duty, respect, service, honor, integrity and principled counsel. Military service gives these words meaning," said Col. Jude Mulvey, who falls under 42nd Infantry Division as the Judge Advocate.

And I have the privilege to work with so many others who embody that, she added.

As women progress into combat arms, Mulvey stated she entirely supports it and added that she is in awe of the women who can meet the mental and physical strengths required to assess into those branches.

With 22 years of service, Mulvey said, "I had no idea how my life would change, and how the Army would give me the opportunity to accomplish things I never thought possible. I went from Volunteer of the Year of a Junior League to serving in a combat zone."

According to the Center for a New American Security, as of July 2019, 46 women have graduated from Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course, and 72 women from the Armor Basic Leader Course, and 270 enlisted women from Infantry and Armor training.

The National Guard's first female graduated from the U.S. Army's Ranger School, Capt. Emily Lilly, which boasted a higher than 67 percent failure rate among attendees in 2017, ended up completing the course at 38 years old.

The armor officer and mother of two stated she recommends more women to try out for Ranger school.

"I was No. 13, and there are 53 women with tabs now, with quite a few currently in the course. Yes, it's physically demanding, but it is more about heart and drive," stated Lilly, who is currently deployed to Kuwait with the Army National Guard's 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, which falls under Task Force Spartan.

The courses force you to face and address your shortcomings, to learn to utilize all the skills you and your team members have, and to dig deeper than you ever thought you could, she added.

Her grandfather was a significant influence on her military career. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1936 as a cavalry officer then served in World War II as a tank company commander.

I had the opportunity to serve as a Cavalry Scout Platoon Leader, and my next position will be as a Tank Company Commander, too. I guess you could say it's in my blood, Lilly reminisced.

As an African-American female sergeant major in a logistics position serving in the military for over 40 years, Sergeant Maj. Debora Mallet, who is the supply and services noncommissioned officer in charge for the 42nd Infantry Division, speaks about young women following their dreams in the military.

That always entails living the Army Values, setting the example, leading from the front, and most importantly, putting forth your best effort in everything you do, she emphasized.

"I am excited and honored to serve during such a historic time where the integration of women in combat arms has begun to occur. The United States has more women serving in its military than any other nation," added Mallet.

I genuinely believe that anyone who possesses the physical and mental ability to meet or exceed the qualification standards should be equally afforded this opportunity, she added.

During her years in the military, she said she had been inspired by the positive changes for women she is seen.

The greatest joys in my military career have been in developing Soldiers and watching them grow and achieve greatness. Knowing that I have a part in their success through training, the provision of leadership and mentoring those makes me happy and keeps me going, she emphasized.

With the military taking such significant steps to build a more diverse and inclusive force, women are continuing to achieve greater seniority and leadership positions across the services.

"I am a minority in my field, but I love being in the Army, mostly because of the connection that develops between Soldiers. Whether it's drilling or deploying with others. A definite bond exists that lasts indefinitely," said Col. Theresa Meltz, physician assistant and clinical operations officer in charge with the 42nd Infantry Division.

In virtually every sector of our society, women are making significant contributions to the quality of American life.

From breaking barriers in combat to challenging military physical fitness standards and commanding leadership roles, we must remember the history of women whose dedication and commitment through the years opened the doors to these opportunities.

Women's History Day can be celebrated by remembering the women who have fought for women's equality.

"There will always be those that say you can't do this because you're a woman, or you're not strong enough, or not enough command presence, or no leadership skills," said Alvarez.

It is your job to prove them wrong. The only way to do so is by pushing harder and always going after those goals and crushing them, Alvarez added.