SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- To be a woman in today’s military is to embrace every opportunity military service offers. That wasn’t the case during the early years when women were only allowed to hold certain positions. But, now, women can join all combat fields without exception.
Many women serving in the Armed Forces today have overcome extraordinary obstacles and appreciate the female pathfinders who helped pave the way for them to serve. For example, retired Chief Master Sgt. Pamela Dorsey, who now serves as the Scott AFB Sexual Assault Response coordinator, has seen many doors open for women in the military during her career. She remembers the day she was an Airman and began to believe that one of those open doors was for her.
She tells the story of when she met a female African American chief master sergeant for the first time.
With her heart beating fast, she ran up to the chief and asked, it’s possible? The chief said, yes, you can be a chief master sergeant.
At that time, she explained, it was not common to see a female African-American chief master sergeant.
Although African American females have been serving in the military since the Civil War, they were not always received with open arms. By the fall of 1985, African Americans accounted for 13 percent of enlisted personnel in the Navy, 17 percent in the Air Force, 20 percent in the Marine Corps, and 30 percent in the Army.
Dorsey said she experienced some of the struggles that came with being an African American woman in the military.
“It used to frustrate me when I would work very hard, and I would see my counterparts, maybe Caucasian males, not working as hard and getting away with things I could never get away with,” said Dorsey.
But, Dorsey did not let her trials be what defined her life. She used her experiences to teach younger generations how to overcome obstacles such as racism and sexual harassment or even assault. She said she is encouraged to see how this generation is so much more empowered as women.
“A strong woman is a woman who knows who she is and knows who she’s not, and is comfortable in both places.” said Dorsey. “I can celebrate your successes and who you are as a woman and celebrate who I am as a woman.”
Dorsey is not the only woman on Scott who looks back and thinks about how far they’ve come. Maj. Rachelle Amado and her sister, Chief Master Sgt. Heather Braundmeier, spent most of their lives at Scott AFB because their father was in the military. Amado is a Reservist with the 932nd Airlift Wing and Braundmeier is a Guardsman with the 126th Air Refueling Wing’s Medical Group. Braundmeier also is a civilian during the week who serves as the 375th Aerospace Medicine Squadron’s health promotion coordinator. They have seen first-hand how not only Scott has changed throughout the years, but also the Air Force.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here doing this, and I know I wouldn’t be able to be here if it weren’t for all the women who were there before me,” Amado said.
Their father played a huge role in their decision to join the military. He led by example, receiving a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, and encouraged them to pursue education. He showed them that joining the military was a great way to achieve this.
Braundmeier said she knew from a young age that she was going to join the military as soon as she graduated high school.
“I always knew the path I was going to take was to follow my father’s footsteps and serve my country upon high school graduation,” she said. “My parents taught my sister and I the importance of receiving ’real-world’ work force experience, and I did that while pursuing my degree through night school.”
Both Braundmeier and Amado followed their father’s footsteps by becoming medical administration Airmen during the beginning of their military careers. Their parents taught them that nothing, not even gender, should become an excuse for not reaching their educational goals.
“If you think that you can’t then you won’t. Do what you can to pave the road for that next generation coming after you,” said Braundmeier.
This is the philosophy she hopes to pass on to her children. She hopes that one day her children will follow in her footsteps to become professionals in the military.
“The word ‘can’t’ is not allowed in this house,” said Braundmeier. “It’s not allowed in my kids’ vocabulary so when they say I can’t do something, I clarify to my children that we don’t use the word can’t because you can do anything that you put your mind and heart to.”
The same philosophy is what at least one firefighter on base believes in as well. For Airman 1st Class Claudia Diaz de Leon, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, becoming a firefighter is like a competition against herself.
“I want to perform at the best capacity I can perform at,” she said.
While in technical school to become a firefighter, she did not want to fail any objectives or fail a test.
“I did it. I loved it, and my favorite part was having some of my classmates say, ‘Hey you did so good,’” she said.
She said that throughout high school she struggled with her body image because she did not have the “ideal small and dainty body.” Instead of conforming to those “ideals of the society,” she began lifting weights and just focused on how to be healthy.
“I love that women are becoming more physically fit and don’t (believe in) that image of women are supposed to be tiny and fragile,” said Diaz de Leon. “Having a muscular build is O.K. and is beautiful.”
Diaz de Leon is one of three female firefighters with the 375th AMW at Scott AFB. In a male dominated field, she said it is important to embrace her gender.
“As long as you’re able to perform, you’ll earn their respect,” she said.
More women are beginning to have the chance to earn that respect in career fields that were formerly open to just males. In 2015, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver made history by becoming the first two women to graduate from the Army Ranger School. On Dec. 3, 2015, the Pentagon announced that all combat jobs would be open to women. In a press conference, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that “there will be no exceptions” to the new rule.
Today the U.S. has over 1,853,690 women veteran servicemembers and that number increases daily. Women comprise 15.5 percent of the Department of Defense active duty force—19 percent are Reserve and Guard.
Diaz de Leon said that as opportunities for women grow, women must not take for granted the weight of that responsibility.
“If you’re going to take on the job, then you (must) have a lot of pride and a lot of motivation to do well in it,” said Diaz de Leon.