For most people today, the idea of women in the military is considered so normal they don’t realize the different women’s services were actually in effect until the 1970s. In other words, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Women’s Army Nurse Corps, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) for the Navy, and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) were all separate organizations with distinct rules as to how women could be assigned and were controlled by women. The structure was for women to be assigned only within the female service and while they had duty assignments with men, they came under the administration of other women. There were also rules such as a woman could be married, but not remain in service if she had children. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I came in during the transition period when women were being phased into the regular services and therefore I met a number of senior women who had only been familiar with the separated services. As usually happens in a major organizational shift, there were those who looked forward to the new opportunities and those who were not able to adapt.
There was of course tremendous resistance in some cases, both male and female who didn’t think integration could be successful. It was probably true there was more reluctance on the male side because they had difficulty in imagining women could handle jobs in traditionally male fields. Part of the transition was the restriction of women going into branches of Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Field Artillery and Combat Engineers. Those branches were restricted until such time as they could work out physical requirements and the psychological impact of women being placed at the “front lines”. As the type of warfare shifted so “front lines” became blurred, the very real issue of physical requirements for certain things also underwent changes due to technology advances. Some tasks that required brute strength such as lifting 50-plus pound artillery rounds were made easier by auto-loaders. In other cases, there is simply no way to lessen the muscle-driven demand. It’s not that some women aren’t as strong as some men; they, however, are the exception rather than the average. And so, when people ask me if I think it’s fair when women are still restricted from specific duties, my response is, “the mission must always come first”.