Women make up about 20 percent of today's armed forces. Nearly 280,000 have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 12 years and 152 have given their lives for their country. Now it is official that women can be considered 'combatants' although according to Pfc. Janelle Zalkovsky, “There was absolutely no difference between my duties and those of my male peers,” she said. “We went on the same missions, pulled the same security and drove the same vehicles.”
Throughout history women have served in combat roles. Sometimes disguised as men such as Joan of Arc or as leaders in such roles as queens. Queen Boudica who famously led the Britons in revolt against the Roman Empire. During the First World War in 1917, Russia commissioned 15 all-female battalions including the 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death. In the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of British and German women served in combat roles in anti-aircraft units, where they shot down thousands of enemy fliers. The Soviets also set up all-female sniper units and many women flew as combat fighter pilots.
Queen Amina of Nigeria, 1560-1610 headed the northern Nigerian Hausa city-state of Zaria. A great military leader, Amina brought most of the other Hausaland city-states under her rule, and is credited with encouraging them to surround themselves with huge defensive mud walls. She also opened up trade routes to the south, enriching Zaria's economy with gold, slaves and cola nuts.
From 1582-1663 the Angolan Queen, Mbande Nzinga (or Jinga) was the striking queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms. She is honored for organizing a powerful guerrilla army conquering the Matamba and mounted a successful resistance against the Portuguese who were increasingly occupying all of what is now known as Angola.
In the 9th Century B.C. Assyrian Queen Sammuramat accompanied her husband into battle. She is attributed with greatly expanding Babylonia's control over distant territories, irrigated the flatlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and restored the beauty that had faded from her capital, Babylon.
Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Norway and Sri Lanka are among those Nations where women play a major role in combat. Throughout history women have made their mark as 'sheros' in the defense or expansion of their nation.
Over One hundred fifty years ago during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure calling for an award known as the U.S. Army Medal of Honor to be bestowed upon “such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection."
Yet, to date only one woman has received the Medal of Honor, and her award was temporarily rescinded.
Mary Edwards Walker, a medical doctor who supported feminist and abolitionist causes, volunteered with the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. Despite her training, she initially had to work as a nurse before becoming the Army’s first female surgeon. Known to cross enemy lines in order to treat civilians, she may have been serving as a spy when Confederate troops captured her in the summer of 1864. Walker was later released as part of a prisoner exchange and returned to duty. On November 11, 1865, President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor, making her the only woman so far to receive the decoration. In 1917 the Army changed its eligibility criteria for the honor and revoked the awards of 911 non-combatants, including Walker. Nevertheless, she continued to wear her medal until her death two years later. An Army board restored Walker’s Medal of Honor in 1977, praising her “distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication and unflinching loyalty to her country, despite the apparent discrimination because of her sex.”
So where are all the 'sheros'? Now that we have officially recognized women's role as combatants it is time to recognize those specific women who have been there all the time. Aren't you ready to hear more stories about the women of our Armed Forces like the fierce and determined 'Maya' who brought down the World's most wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden. All those 'sheros' out there we salute you.