A Salute to Women Veterans Trailblazing
a Path from the Military to Public Office

More women veterans and those who have served in combat roles are running for office . . . Someday we may see a four-star general take the oath as the first woman president.

Today, women, including veterans, have a better chance than ever to improve their showing, because they are running for office in unprecedented numbers. By mid-May, 457 women were in the running for Congressional seats. In the Senate, 49 women are running. For the U.S. House of Representatives, 408 women are running. And in the thirteen states that have already held primaries, 72 of those women have won the nomination—this compared to 36 in 2014 and 41 in 2016 in those same states. In addition, another 65 women are competing for a governorship and 35 for lieutenant governor. (Currently, of the 50 governors, 12 percent are women.) Women make a better showing in state legislatures, where they are one in four. At the moment, 678 women are vying for a seat, and 93 more are striving for other state executive positions.

As of February, at least 32 more women veterans were running for seats in the House and Senate, according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Twenty-five are Democrats and seven are Republicans. Members of the military in elected office have always been male and Republican, but today a great majority of the women who saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are Democrats. As Amy McGrath’s story shows us, more women veterans are running because of the 2016 election and because there are more women in the military.

The Chicago Tribune reported that veterans cited healthcare as a prime reason for running, in addition to the need to improve education and paid maternity leave. Not surprisingly, the women wanted to achieve parity with men. Strong national security was rarely mentioned first as the women candidates considered that a “given.”

Senator Tammy Duckworth, retired lieutenant colonel in the Army, said women veterans share a unique bond that helps put partisanship aside. Duckworth and another Democrat, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, one of only two female combat veterans in the House, are working with two Republicans who share their concerns about sexual assault in the military and family leave. The Republican veterans are Rep. Martha McSally, the first female U.S. fighter pilot to fly a combat mission, and Senator Joni Ernst, lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.

“Military leadership means you focus on results rather than a partisan position,” said Connie Pillich, who spent eight years in the military. She was elected to the Ohio House and is now running for governor.

While there is more awareness of the contemporary women who are blazing trails in the military, women have a long history in the American armed forces. They have fought in every conflict from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror. During most of that time, they served in ancillary positions, such as nurses and cooks. They began participating in combat missions about 25 years ago.

In the War of Independence, Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man and fought in many battles. She was injured several times and revealed to be a woman at the end of the war. Nonetheless, she was thanked for her service and honorably discharged. Dr. Mary Walker was the first, and remains the only, woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. She fought for the Union as the first female surgeon in the U.S. Army. Captured by the Confederacy, she was imprisoned for several months.

In World War I, women were officially admitted to the military in recognition of their importance in support roles. Thirty thousand served and several hundred died in the conflict. The Second World War had almost five-hundred thousand women serving as pilots, drivers and mechanics, in addition to their traditional roles. The 1960s were a time of social upheaval, and the military was no exception. As a result of being admitted to military academies, women were able to become officers in positions of authority.

Through the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, women were flying combat missions, but not until 2013 were women allowed to fight in combat roles. The ultimate goal was reached when The Pentagon decreed that women were fit to serve in all combat roles, a ruling that paved the way for women to achieve the highest ranks in the military. Someday we may see a four-star general take the oath as the first woman president.


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