JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Navy Medicine Training Support Center’s Diversity Committee sponsored a Women’s Equality Day celebration at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Aug. 24.
Women's Equality Day was established by Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971 and commemorates the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. The observance has grown to include focusing attention on women's continued efforts toward gaining full equality.
The observance featured a presentation that gave the audience a background of the women who paved the way for women serving in today’s military, keeping in line with this year’s theme, "Then and Now."
Among the women highlighted in the presentation was Deborah Sampson, a woman who served in Gen. George Washington’s Army as "Robert Shurtleff." Her gender was revealed after she was wounded in battle.
Master Chief Petty Officer Rikki Brown, senior enlisted leader, Directorate for Operations, served as the guest speaker for the event.
“I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me – a powerful statement from our Sailor’s Creed,” Brown said. “I could not be more honored to stand before you today, representing those who have gone before me. In days not too far gone, the notion of women serving in the Navy was not widely supported."
Support for uniformed women grew during WWII, and through the persistence of several women, much of the groundwork was laid for Public Law 689, allowing women to serve in the Navy.
Brown mentioned the Women’s Reserve, unofficially known as WAVES, which stands for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. It was established in 1938 and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 with the passing of Public Law 689. The WAVES served as air traffic controllers, artists, cryptologists, hospital corpsmen, linguists and weather specialists.
In July 1948, through the direct contributions of the women who served during WWII, the Women’s Armed Service Act allowed for the first women to be sworn into regular active duty. The WAVES were later disestablished in 1972 so women could integrate into the Navy’s main functions.
“Heartbroken family members, and our brothers and sisters in arms have felt indescribable grief and great pride in not just their sons, but now their daughters, sisters and mothers,” Brown said. “We are a grateful nation. It is always sad when Sailors, Soldiers and Marines die, but losses of women in this war are unprecedented in recent history. According to research, 7,000 women served in Vietnam, but only 16 were killed, most of them nurses. In the first Persian Gulf War, 33 women were deployed, but only six perished due to missile explosions or accidents. In our current war, 161 women have lost their lives, and more than 1,000 have been wounded in action.”
Brown recounted women in the armed services who lost their lives in the line of duty.
“Army PFC [private first class] Sam W. Huff, who was 18 and killed by an IED [improvised explosive device] attack on her Humvee near Baghdad, Iraq, April 18, 2005,” Brown said. “Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris. She was 28 and killed in action when her helicopter was shot down during enemy action in Anbar Province, Iraq, Feb. 7, 2007. Lt. Florence Choe; she was 35 – killed by an Afghan National Army Soldier she was training at Camp Shaheen, Afghanistan, March 27, 2009. Airman 1st Class Casey Ruiz; she was 21 – killed in action when her C-130 was brought down in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Oct. 2, 2015. I’d be remised if I failed to mention Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jaime S. Jaenke, who was 29 when she lost her life on June 5, 2006. She left behind a 9-year-old baby. She was serving her country in Amal Province, Iraq, when the Humvee she was riding in was struck by an IED.”
Brown also said, more than 9,000 female troops have earned combat action medals. Four-hundred thirty-seven women have earned awards for valor to include two silver stars, three distinguished flying crosses, 31 air medals and 16 bronze stars. More are being awarded every day.
Today, women continue to make indispensable contributions to the Navy’s mission and order of operations. In 2015, it was reported that there are more than 214,000 women serving in the armed forces, with the Navy and Air Force accounting for the highest percentages.
“Eighty years ago, we [women] couldn’t be in the Navy,” Brown said. “Fifty-six years ago, we couldn’t be on ships. Ten years ago, we couldn’t be in direct harm’s way. Today, we’re soliciting female Sailors to serve on submarines. Can you imagine where we will be in 10, 25 or 80 years from now?”
After the guest speaker’s remarks, NMTSC’s Student Choir sang their rendition of “This is Me” from the movie/musical 'The Greatest Showman."