American women have been fighting and dying for their country since the Revolutionary War. But, in a classic Catch-22, women — because they weren’t officially supposed to be on the front lines — didn’t reap the same career opportunities as their male counterparts for being in harm’s way.
In 2015, all combat roles were open to women; by then, nearly 150 had died ,and more than 850 had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Besides shooting to kill, women made unique contributions to America’s two Middle Eastern wars. Because of cultural sensitivities, half the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan were off-limits to male soldiers. Knowing this, insurgents often used women’s bodies to hide sensitive materials, such as documents, rolls of film and cellphone SIM cards.
Enter FETs, or female engagement teams, whose members could effectively frisk women at checkpoints and on combat missions, while also extracting valuable intelligence.
“Beyond the Call: Three Women on the Front Lines in Afghanistan” (Da Capo Press, $14.99) by Eileen Rivers, an Army veteran, makes an important contribution to understanding the evolving role of women in service to their country. She documents how women in arms, who represent 16 percent of America’s military, make the nation stronger.
Here are five things taken from her book to know about American women in the military:
Ability to gather intelligence
Women were able to gain valuable intelligence from their interaction with Muslim women by, as Rivers writes, “talking to the people who had observed the enemy most — the women who lived among them, were victims of their violence, and had spent years watching insurgents’ day-to-day activities.”
Helping empower local women
The work of FETs went beyond security- and intelligence-gathering to encompass nation-building objectives: empowering women to work, register to vote and serve as police officers.
Restrictions on female soldiers
Female American soldiers and many Afghan women had this in common: The former could not leave their base, on foot or in a vehicle, without being accompanied by a male soldier; the latter often were confined to their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.
Engaging with Muslim women
Begun by the Army in 2004 and adopted by the Marines in 2006, the use of female soldiers to engage with Muslim women had grown by 2011 to consist of 149 FET teams from 14 countries in Afghanistan alone.
Increasing roles for women in the military
The progress of women in the military, though slow, has been relentless: In 1901, female nurses became part of the U.S. Army; more than 100,000 women served in World War II; in 1980, the first female West Pointers graduated; in 1989, a woman led a combat unit in action for the first time; in 1993, women were cleared to fly helicopters during combat missions; in 2015 two women graduated from the arduous Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Read more at USA Today.