Almost three years ago, when it seemed women might be about to join combat units across the U.S. military, I wrote about what that would likely mean afterward. If history is a guide, women who serve in leadership roles in combat will go on to become leaders in the civilian world: entrepreneurs, CEOs, politicians.
Last week, it happened: the Pentagon announced that as of Jan. 1, women will be eligible to serve in any combat role they can qualify for.
In modern war, there are no front lines, and there's a big difference between serving in combat, versus serving in a unit whose entire role is to go looking for combat. That said, this new development is at least in part due to the experiences and efforts of hundreds of women veterans. Here are 9 of them:
1. Private Monica Brown, Silver Star recipient
An 18-year-old medic, Brown was awarded the Silver Star for heroism in combat "for repeatedly risking her life on April 25, 2007, to shield and treat her wounded comrades, displaying bravery and grit," according to The Washington Post. "Instead of taking cover, the 18-year-old medic grabbed her bag and ran through gunfire toward fellow soldiers in a crippled and burning vehicle."
2. Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, Silver Star recipient
Hester, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 2001, was the first female service member awarded the military's third-highest medal for valor since World War II. During an ambush on her supply convoy in Iraq in March 2005, about 50 insurgent fighters attacked her squad of eight men and two women. Hester personally killed three of the enemy herself during the ensuing 25-minute firefight.
3. Mary Edward Walker, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient
A Civil War hero, Walker is the only woman to have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor. Walker, a trained surgeon, tried to join the Union Army but was rebuffed, and initially served as a volunteer nurse. Eventually, she was awarded a "Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian)," making her the first female surgeon in the U.S. military. She spent two years treating soldiers near the front lines.
4. Admiral Michelle J. Howard, Vice-Chief of Naval Operations
A member of the U.S. Naval Academy's class of 1982, Howard is currently serving as the second-highest ranking officer in the U.S. Navy. She was the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, and the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of admiral. Trivia: She has a voice cameo in the movie Captain Phillips, because she was the real-life commander of the task force that rescued Phillips (played by Tom Hanks).
5. Lieutenant Elsie Ott, first woman to receive the Air Medal
A nurse, joined the U.S. Army two months before Pearl Harbor, and was instrumental in pulling off the first intercontinental medical evacuation from a battlefield. Given just 24 hours notice, Ott--who had never been on a plane before--put together the plan and escorted five wounded soldiers from India to Walter Reed hospital in Washington in five days--a trip that might have taken months by ship.
6-8. Capt. Kristen Griest, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Maj. Lisa Jaster
Thirty-five years ago, Major Lilian Pfluke's request to attend the Army's elite Ranger School, the elite infantry course that most senior Army leaders pass early in their careers was denied. Earlier this year, Greist, Haver and Jaster earlier this year finally became the first three women military members to earn their Ranger tabs.
9. Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth
Duckworth is a member of Congress from Illinois who previously served as an assistant U.S. secretary of veterans affairs, but during the Iraq War she was a UH-60 helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army National Guard. A helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and Duckworth lost both of her legs. She was awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart at Walter Reed.