A Female Veteran’s Reflections on Military Women This International Women’s Day

Photo of Kathleen Anderson's re-enlistment

I generally balk at participating in any Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, or “You Go Girl!” activities and have my entire life. Growing up, I never understood why women should receive some special treatment or recognition for doing the same things men do.

I grew up in the late 1980s and 90s when it became very on-trend for women to be told they could do and be anything they wanted to be and should aspire to be all things and then some. All I knew was that I wanted to be more than what I was economically destined to become, so as soon as I could and with the very insistent push of my parents, I enlisted in the United States Air Force.

Being a woman in the military, particularly the Air Force, wasn’t all that groundbreaking when I joined; I wouldn’t feel the pressures to be a figurehead and inspiration to my gender until much later, as I ascended the ranks and became a senior leader. It was these women I’m about to tell you about that served as inspirations for me.

Captain Linda Bray

Captain Linda Bray, a US Army ROTC graduate, is why women like myself served in combat next to our brothers in uniform during the last Forever War in Afghanistan. In 1989, Captain Bray led the 988th Military Police Company during Operation Just Cause in Panama.

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She became the first American woman to command soldiers into battle. Her unique combat role at the time eventually led to an end to the ban on women serving in combat by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2013.

Colonel Martha McSally

Colonel Martha McSally was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat missions. An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, she became the first female to command a fighter squadron in combat.

While attending the Air War College before pinning on Colonel, Martha McSally said:

“I hope I’m a role model to both men and women because we are a fighting force and should not be concerned with differences between us.”

Colonel McSally, unfortunately, is also one of many of us military sexual assault survivors, as she publicly disclosed during a Congressional hearing in 2019.

Major Lauren Edwards

Marine Corps Major Lauren Edwards is the epitome of badass and cool. During the Iraq invasion, Major Edwards led more than 150 soldiers and countless military vehicles through the country of Iraq while taking on heavy fire.

In addition to her amazing leadership skills, at one point, she could complete the male Marine Corps physical fitness standard test to perfection, a feat many men find difficult. For reference, this means that Major Edwards could run three miles in 18 minutes and complete 20 pull-ups and 100 sit-ups in two minutes.

After taking command of the 8th Engineer Support Battalion at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in 2015 then Lieutenant Colonel Edwards said:

“My charge now is to serve as a positive example of leadership and professionalism to men and women alike. I’m extraordinarily proud to take command of 8th ESB today, and I hope that all Marines and sailors in this battalion recognize that if they work hard and look out for each other they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to.”

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Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester

Rarely do we hear about women in combat roles engaging in what is known as close-quarters combat. However, that is precisely what earned Sergeant Hester the Silver Star.

While deployed to Iraq, Sergeant Hester walked directly into the line of fire, killing three Iraqi insurgents at close range. When her supply convoy was ambushed, she directed her team with lethal precision.

Her leadership that day resulted in 33 insurgents being killed or wounded, with not a single loss of her teammates. Service runs deep with this one as she later separated from the National Guard to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a police officer.

Later, the call to duty came again as she donned her uniform to serve her nation in Afghanistan and again in the Virgin Islands for a humanitarian mission.

Gone too soon

Some of us never get the chance to perform groundbreaking actions or save our fellow soldiers through movie-worthy acts of bravery. Sergeant Nicole Gee is one of too many service members whose full potential heroism was never allowed to blossom.

Sergeant Gee was one of the 13 taken from us during the suicide bomber attacks at Kabul International Airport during the botched Afghanistan withdrawal in 2021. Immortalized by images of her holding an Afghan child in an attempt to both protect and soothe, this fellow woman in uniform was a hero taken from us too soon and forgotten just as quickly by the administration that sentenced her and her fellow service members to an early death.

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The world was better with her in it, and though her service was short, it didn’t make her any less of a giant of military bravery than her fellow ladies in service.

Last thoughts

I was and still am proud to have worn the military uniform and to have served my nation with distinction and honor. I endured many of the same hardships as my fellow female servicewomen.

With each rank I made, it often became that much harder for my fellow leaders in the room to not look at me as “the woman leader” in the room but to look at me as an equal and one they should keep their eye on because I was often quicker on my feet than most of them. Making me no more special than the next female service member, I endured sexual harassment and survived a sexual assault during my time in uniform.

While women face different barriers and obstacles than men, what makes us unique isn’t our genetic makeup but our strength of character. This trait can be found in anyone, regardless of gender.

It was and is likely still hard to be a woman in the military. Now imagine how much harder it will be for women in the military when men are allowed to say they are women and diminish the real female greats of military history.

To all my fellow women in uniform past, present, and future…thank you for your service, and give ’em Hell, ladies.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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