They were the first: How these military women smashed glass ceilings
In the 21st century, the military is still seeing female military "firsts."
From West Point cadet leadership to the Marine Corps' Winter Mountain Leaders Course, the women of the U.S. Armed Forces have continued to make strides in their respective branches and occupations. On International Women's Day, we celebrate those who have paved the way for the servicewomen of this millennium.
Opha Mae Johnson
Private Opha Mae Johnson was the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1918. Initially, Johnson worked as a civil service employee at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington D.C., and later served in the office of the Quartermaster General of the Marine Corps. As a sergeant during World War I, she was the highest ranking woman in the USMC.
Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation that made the Women’s Army Corps officially part of the U.S. Army. Aside from nurses, WACs were the first women to serve in the Army and over 150,000 women served in the WAC during World War II, often as typists, clerks, medical technicians, and mechanics.
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)
WASPs flew a variety of aircraft within the Army Air Forces during WWII. These women helped with a mass shortage of pilots in 1942 and were trained to fly military aircrafts so their male counterparts could fly in combat overseas. However, WASPS were not granted military status until the 1970s.
In 1975, Donna Tobias became the first woman to graduate from the Navy’s Deep Sea Diving School. In 2018, a diver locker at Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut was named "Tobias Hall" in honor.
Women of West Point
In 1980, the United States Military Academy saw its first class of women graduates. Making up 6.7 percent of their graduating class, 62 of the initial 119 female cadets graduated from West Point.
Lieutenant General Susan Helms (retired) became the first U.S. military woman in space in 1993. She received her commission from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980 and served as an F-15 and F-16 weapons separation engineer and a flight test engineer. She was selected by NASA in 1990 and during her career flew on STS-54 (1993), STS-64 (1994), STS-78 (1996) and STS-101 (2000), and served aboard the International Space Station as a member of the Expedition-2 crew (2001). In total, she spent over 210 days in space.
Vivien S. Crea
Vice Admiral Vivien Crea (retired) was the first female vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and the first woman to reach the rank of vice admiral. She was also the first woman from any branch of service and the first Coast Guardsman to serve as Presidential Military Aide. Crea retired in 2009.
Lieutenant General Laura J. Richardson
Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson became the first female deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2017. FORSCOM is the largest command in the U.S. Army. In 2012, she became the first female deputy commanding general of a maneuver division.
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