2001 - PFC Sayra Salas Sanchez
Communications Operator Supporting Special Forces
Camp Abel at Bagram Airbase where Sanchez and the 3rd Special Forces Group set up. —Veritas, Volume 12, Number 2 (2016)Tent that housed the CJSOTF-A Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC). —Veritas, Volume 12, Number 2 (2016)The operations center for the Combined Joint Special Forces Operations Task Force-Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) —Veritas, Volume 12, Number 2 (2016)
Private First Class Sayra Salas Sanchez joined the Army in 2000 and was assigned as a 74C, a telecommunications operator and maintainer with the Third Special Forces Group. She was driving a Zodiac boat during a water jump exercise at Ft. Bragg when her unit received word of the September 11th attacks. Sanchez deployed to Afghanistan in support of the Special Operations Forces. She was one of the first females on the ground with her unit as they began to set up a support base. Working to establish and maintain the communications network in a rough environment, and with incoming enemy mortars, Sanchez helped to ensure reliable communication with the special operations forward bases. Sanchez deployed to Afghanistan a total of three times in four years.
ResourcesPFC Sanchez’s Oral History Transcript (2005 - PDF Download)A Short History of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan (2016 - PDF download)Creating a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force HQ in Afghanistan (2016 - PDF download)
2002 - CPT Sherry Womack
Medical Officer with Green Berets
After the attacks on 9/11, some of the first American forces in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom were the Green Berets. Captain Sherry Womack joined them in January 2002, as a medical support officer, becoming the first female physician’s assistant to accompany Special Operations Forces into a combat zone. Womack worked closely in treating local women and children in a culturally sensitive environment, foreshadowing future Army efforts utilizing women in cultural support. While providing medical care she also gathered intelligence information from local Afghan citizens. Womack served in Afghanistan until August 2002, laying the groundwork for other women to play a key role with connecting to the local population alongside Special Forces operators.
2003 - SSG Kimberly Voelz
Explosive Ordnance Technician (EOD) KIA
Staff Sergeant Kimberly Voelz was assigned to the 703rd Explosive Ordnance Detachment, when it deployed to Iraq in 2003, the only female in her seventeen person unit. An experienced EOD specialist who had served with the Secret Service, Voelz deployed with the same unit as her husband, fellow EOD soldier Staff Sergeant Max Voelz. On December 13, 2003, Max called in the location of an improvised explosive device (IED) and Kimberly was sent to check it out. The IED exploded while she was trying to defuse it, severely wounding her. Voelz died at the hospital several hours later, with her husband by her side. She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
2004 - Kimberly Hampton
First Female Aviator KIA by Hostile Fire
On January 2, 2004, Captain Kimberly Hampton’s OH-58 Kiowa, an armed reconnaissance helicopter, was shot down by hostile groundfire near Fallujah, Iraq. Hampton died in the crash, making her the first female American pilot to be killed by enemy fire. Well liked as a pilot and leader, Hampton was flying with the 82nd Airborne Division at the time of her death. Before she deployed to Iraq, Hampton left her parents a letter which included, “if anything ever happens to me, you can be certain that I am doing the things I love...So, worry if you must, but you can be sure that your only child is living a full, exciting life and is HAPPY!” Hampton was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Purple Heart.
2005 - SGT Leigh Ann Hester
First Female Silver Star Recipient for Combat
On the morning of March 20, 2005, over fifty insurgents launched a large scale ambush on a convoy near Baghdad, Iraq. The 617th Military Police Company, a Kentucky National Guard unit, was escorting the convoy. Among the Soldiers was Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, who positioned her Humvee in a flanking firing position as the Americans responded to the ambush. After directing her gunner and firing grenades, Hester followed her squad leader, Staff Sergeant Timothy Nein, and together they cleared two trenches of insurgents. The actions of Hester and her unit broke the ambush and resulted in heavy insurgent casualties. For her actions that day, Hester was awarded the Silver Star, becoming the first woman since World War II to receive the medal, and the first woman ever to receive the award for direct combat action.
2006 - CW2 Sheila Pressley
AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter Pilot
Chief Warrant Officer Two Sheila Pressley deployed to Iraq three times between 2003 and 2009 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She later deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 during Operation Enduring Freedom. During 2006, Pressley flew missions with 1st Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Infantry Division at Taji, Iraq. Throughout her career, Pressley succeeded in ever challenging roles, including Pilot-in-Command and Air Mission Commander, retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer Three. Reflecting on the discrimination she faced during her time in service, Pressley stated, “My hope is that I’ve torn down some of those walls permanently, so that the next person only need to prove him or herself without first disproving misconceptions regarding their race or gender as being indicative of their individual merit.”
African-American Women in Army Aviation
2007 - PFC Monica Brown
Combat Medic and Silver Star Recipient
Private First Class Monica Brown was an 18-year old medic from the 782 Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. During a patrol with a combat unit on April 25, 2007, Brown showed extraordinary heroism when insurgents ambushed their Humvees. While under fire, Brown and her platoon sergeant ran to a vehicle that had hit an improvised explosive device (IED), pulling wounded Soldiers to cover. During the ensuing firefight, Brown treated the wounded, and twice covered them with her body to protect them from heavy enemy fire. For her actions that day, Brown became only the second female Soldier since World War II to be awarded the Silver Star.
PFC Brown interview and dramatization (2009)
PFC Brown’s Heroic Actions (2009)
2008 - GEN Ann Dunwoody
First Female Four-Star General
On November 14, 2008, General Ann Dunwoody became the first female four-star general in the U.S. Army. Dunwoody commissioned into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1975, before the branch was disestablished in 1978. During her career, Dunwoody had several firsts in the Army, including serving as the first female battalion commander in the 82nd Airborne Division and the first woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command. When she was promoted to general in 2008, Dunwoody said, “I have never considered myself anything but a Soldier. I recognize that with this selection, some will view me as a trailblazer, but it's important that we remember the generations of women, whose dedication, commitment and quality of service helped open the doors of opportunity for us today.” Dunwoody served with distinction for thirty-seven years.
2009 - CSM Teresa King
First Woman Appointed as Commandant of the Drill Sergeant School
On September 22, 2009, Command Sergeant Major Teresa King assumed her role as the Commandant of the Drill Sergeant School, becoming the first woman to hold that position. A drill sergeant early in her own career, King rose through the ranks and later became the first woman to serve as first sergeant of HHC, XVIII Airborne Corps. Upon her historic posting to the Drill Sergeant School, King stated, “It really doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. If you . . . enforce standards, people will respect you.”
2010 - SGT Sherri Jo Gallagher
First Woman to Win Soldier of the Year
In 2010, Sergeant Sherri Gallagher made history by becoming the first female to win the Soldier of the Year competition. Soldiers have to complete a series of tests such as land navigation, first aid, and marksmanship during the competition at Fort Lee, Virginia. Gallagher beat out twenty three other Soldiers to win the prestigious title in October 2010. A competitive shooter from an early age, Gallagher was part of the Army Marksmanship Unit from 2008 until 2012. Besides competing in matches, her job consisted of training soldiers how to shoot, both at basic and advanced levels. Gallagher also deployed to Afghanistan where she trained female Afghanistan Army officers in marksmanship. In 2012, Gallagher joined “The Golden Knights” U.S. Army Parachute Team.
2011 - First Cultural Support Teams Deploy
Cultural constraints in Afghanistan led to U.S. Special Operations Command creating the Cultural Support Team (CST) concept in 2010. Many situations required that female Soldiers engage with local populations as it was not suitable for male Soldiers to do so. The CST concept was similar to earlier efforts such as the Team Lioness servicewomen or the Female Engagement Teams (FET) which had been utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan on an ad hoc basis. However, the CST concept was designed as a formal program, and would serve to strengthen Special Forces missions. The first Cultural Support Team deployed in January 2011. First Lieutenant Ashley White was part of the next group, CST-2, when she deployed to Afghanistan six months later. On 22 October, White was out on a night mission with the 2/75th Ranger Regiment when an IED exploded close by, making her the first CST member to be killed in action. At the time of her death, females were banned from combat but could still be attached to Special Operations units in various roles (as seen earlier in the timeline). White was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
2012 - Army Opens Six Combat Related Military Occupational Specialties (MOS)
In February 2012, the Army stated its plan to open six new jobs to women. These MOSs were typically assigned to or “co-located” with direct combat units and were previously closed to female Soldiers. They included support positions with artillery, armor, and other fighting vehicles. The Army also opened battalion level positions in combat units to women. Both of these developments were in opposition to the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy, specifically the “co-located” clause which was shown to be archaic in the fluid nature of the modern battlefield. These changes signaled momentum towards a full overturn of the 1994 policy.
ResourcesArmy Opens Positions to Women (2012) Pentagon to Loosen Restrictions on Women in Combat (2012) Integrating Army Women Into Combat (2013) First Female Bradley Mechanic (2012) First Female Bradley Mechanic Trains (2013) NCO Corps Welcomes First Female Bradley Maintainer (2015) Army Opens More Jobs to Women (2013) First Field Artillery Training for Women (2013)
2013 - Repeal of Combat Exclusion Policy
In January 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the elimination of the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy. Referencing women’s service, Panetta stated, “The fact is, they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission, and for more than a decade of war, they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism.” General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reinforced this statement when he said, “When in contact with the enemy, the individual Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine doesn’t consider whether their comrade in arms is a man or woman. They care about whether they can do their job. There is a simple explanation for this: trust transcends gender.” The military branches were given three years to come up with an integration plan.
2014 - The Door Opens
Changes in the Army Reinforce Policy Shift
While changes from the 2013 repeal of the Combat Exclusion Policy were not instantaneous, women increasingly made strides in gender integration within the Army. Female Soldiers continued to serve in harm’s way while attached to combat units in Afghanistan, including the last Cultural Support Teams (CST). In the United States, more noteworthy firsts were seen across the institution. For example, Specialist Taylor became the first Jungle Warfare Qualified woman when she graduated from the Jungle Operations Training Course. Likewise, Captain Elizabeth Rascon became the first female commander of the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment, a special ceremonial unit showcasing the division’s history and heritage.
ResourcesFirst Female Jungle Warfare Qualified – Specialist Tinita Taylor (2014) Interview with SPC Taylor (2014) “Spartan” Medic Finds Place on Engineer Team (2014) First Female Combat Engineer (2015) New Female Combat Engineers Training (2016) First Female Horse Detachment Commander (2014) 1st Cav’s Horse Detachment Welcomes First Female Commander (2014) Captain Anticipates First Cavalry Charge (2014)
2015 - First Female Soldiers Graduate from Ranger School
In August 2015, First Lieutenant Shaye Haver and Captain Kristen Griest graduated from Ranger School, becoming the first female Soldiers to earn their Ranger tabs. Yet even as they were breaking ground by graduating from Ranger School, they could not utilize this training in the field. While the Army moved towards opening up the combat arms to female Soldiers, at the time of their graduation, Haver and Griest were not allowed to join the Rangers or serve in the infantry. However, that would change a few months later when Griest became the first female infantry officer in 2016. By 2018, both women were commanding infantry units, and as of April 2020, fifty women had graduated from Ranger School.
ResourcesFirst Women to attend Ranger Course (2015) Haver, Griest Graduate Grueling Ranger School (2015) Two of 19 Women Graduate Ranger School (2015) Ranger School Made Haver, Griest Better Leaders (2015) Ranger Course Student Panel (2015) Graduate from Army Ranger School But Can’t Fight (2015) Griest – Educating the Force video (2021) Haver- Educating the Force video (2020) Griest First Female Infantry Officer (2016) Haver Interview: Encourages Attending Ranger School (2018)
2016 - PFC Katherine Beatty
First Female Cannoneer (Opening of Combat Arms)
On December 3, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that in January 2016, all military positions would open to women. A few months later, in March 2016, Private First Class Katherine Beatty became the first female 13B cannon crewmember in the Army. Having enlisted in a different military occupational specialty (MOS), Beatty transferred to 13B when the Army opened it to female Soldiers. Beatty graduated from her Advanced Individual Training with top honors.
ResourcesPFC Beatty, Female Cannoneer (2016)
Beatty in AIT Training at Fort Sill (2016)Combat Jobs Opening to Women (2015)
2017 - First Gender Integrated Infantry Basic
In May 2017, the first gender integrated Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) class graduated, with 18 female and 119 male graduates. Graduating from their fourteen weeks of infantry training, the female recruits were able to proudly wear the insignia of the Infantry branch. As part of the “Leaders First” policy, female officers such as Captain Kristen Griest (see entry for 2015 on timeline) and noncommissioned officers joined the combat arms to pave the way for these junior enlisted who followed.
Ft. Benning Graduates First Gender Integrated Infantry OSUT (2017)
2018 - LTG Richardson
Acting Commander of FORSCOM
In October 2018, Lieutenant General Laura Richardson took over as the acting Commanding General for United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), the largest command in the Army. She was the first woman to lead FORSCOM and would serve as acting commander until March 2019. In July 2019, she became the first female commander of United States Army North and in August 2021 was confirmed to become the next Commanding General of United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which will bring her fourth star, making her the second female Army 4-star general.
2019 - Thirty Four African-American Women Graduate from West Point
The U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2019 graduated the largest number of female African-American cadets with thirty four Black female cadets being commissioned into the Army. While still a small percentage of the entire class, the numbers of women of color are rising with each passing year. West Point has put additional effort into recruiting a more diverse cadet corps. The result is more people of color, both female and male, in each graduating class. In 2017, Cadet Simone Askew became the first Black woman to become first captain of the Corps of Cadets at West Point, the highest position for a cadet.
2020 - First Woman Serving in the Special Forces (Green Berets)
2020 saw another first for female Soldiers, with an Army National Guard Soldier graduating Special Forces training and joining the Green Berets. The unidentified (security protocol) Soldier became the first woman to join the Green Berets, but actually the second woman to graduate Special Forces training. In 1980, Captain Kate Wilder, an intelligence officer, went through the course but was not allowed to graduate. After an investigation, Wilder was permitted to graduate but was not assigned to a Special Forces unit, and so was not considered part of the Green Berets. After this incident, women were barred from attending the qualification course until 2016, when all combat arms positions were open to women. This time around, however, things are different and the new female Green Beret is assigned to a team.
2021 - First Female Secretary of the Army
On May 28, 2021, Christine Wormuth was appointed Secretary of the Army, becoming the first woman to hold the Army’s top civilian position. Wormuth came to the position after an extensive career in the defense field, including serving as the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2014-2016.