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Commentary: The gift that keeps giving

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --

“If anyone is worried about the next generation of warriors, fear not. The bench is filled with talented Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, and while I may be the first woman to receive this honor, I know with certainty I won't be the last,” said Ann Dunwoody.

On June 23, 2008, President George W. Bush nominated Ann Dunwoody as a four-star general in the U.S. Army. Dunwoody was the first woman to ever achieve the rank in the history of the U.S. military.

She is just one of many who build upon the foundation to an intricate and exemplary journey toward equality, allowing what were once underappreciated innovative minds to contribute to the best armed force this world has ever seen.

Prior to the signing of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act by President Harry Truman in 1948, women were not always integrated into the military nor were they recognized on the same level as men or given the same benefits during and after their service. This act not only allowed women to serve as regular members of the U.S. Armed Forces, but it continues to be the driving force behind why many women have reached phenomenal milestones throughout history.

This legislation allowed today’s warriors to surpass gender neutral expectations with the exception of combat positions, which numerous service members are now lobbying against. The following are pioneers in this journey but more importantly, a small footprint of a boundless history etched by women.

In 2012, Janet C. Wolfenbarger became the first female four-star general in the U.S. Air Force. After receiving her fourth star, she became the commander of Air Force Materiel Command. She had previously served as the military deputy in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition at the Pentagon, where she oversaw research and development, testing, production, and modernization of an annual $40 billion in Air Force programs. She now serves as the chairperson of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, providing advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Defense on retention, treatment, employment and integration of all professional women in the armed forces.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Katie Higgins credits the many women before her who paved the path and allowed for her to have the opportunity to be the first female pilot of the Blue Angels. In 2014, Higgins was chosen to join the five-person crew aboard the Fat Albert—the team’s C-130 Hercules that carries personnel and equipment. Through the selection process, including a long application, essays, and grilling by the Blue Angels officers about her personal and professional life, she was chosen over other aviators competing for the same position.

In 2012, former colonel – now Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, continued to break barriers as she became the first woman to take command of an Air Force combat fighter wing, the 4th Fighter Wing located at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Prior to that, she conquered common gender biases in the military by becoming the first female fighter pilot in 1993. Currently, she is the commander of the Air Force’s most diverse wing, the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB, where pacesetters are developed “through tactics and advanced training [through advanced aircrew, cyber, cyber-space, logistics, command and control training at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School] to ensure worldwide combat air forces are prepared for tomorrow’s victories.” Furthermore, the 57th Wing oversees the dynamic and challenging flying operations by conducting periodic Red Flag and Green Flag exercises designed to train combat forces for real-world missions.

The future is here and today’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are greater than ever before. Trailblazing women like Ann Dunwoody, Janet Wolfenbarger and Jeannie Leavitt show women of all ages not only in the military, but worldwide, that no matter the barrier, success is within reach. The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, although implemented 70 years ago, is the gift that continues to give exponentially. Now that a petition for a lift on the ban of combat positions is underway, the only way is up in regards to the role of women for years to come.

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