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Saluting Women Veterans on Mother's Day

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Mother's Day began in the United States in the early 20th century and it's always been a very emotional day. Mothers are usually the first teachers of our children, as well as our first impression of how we view the world. Whether a sports figure is throwing a ball giving honor to his mother, or whether it's someone going off to war and waiting for that letter mom sends telling about what's happening back at home. As they say there's nothing like a "mother's love."

Well, let me ask how do you think mothers who serve in the military feel during this time when they can't necessarily be at home with their children, or if you're a military wife and mother who has to care for the family alone.

Women have been a part of the war effort since the Revolutionary War, but in the early days of they had to disguise themselves to serve alongside men. Deborah Samson Gannett, from Plymouth, Massachusetts, was one of the first American woman soldiers. In 1782, she enlisted under the name of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtleff Samson. For 17 months, Samson served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. She was wounded twice.

Also during the Revolution War, in 1776, Margaret Corbin fought alongside her husband and 600 American soldiers as they defended Fort Washington, New York. In the Civil War, several women disguised themselves as men to enlist and fight for the Union. Sarah Rosetta Wakeman enlisted as Private Lyons Wakeman. She died during the war in New Orleans at the Marine General Hospital. At the time of her death, her true gender was not known. In fact, her headstone reads Lyons Wakeman.

During World War I, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps allowed women to enlist. More than 12,000 enlisted and about 400 died during the war. Women also worked for the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations, as well as in factory, office, transportation, and other jobs vacated by men who were off at war. By the end of World War I, women made up 24% of aviation plant workers.

In World War II, a total of 350,000 women served in the U.S. military. More than 60,000 women served as Army nurses and over 14,000 served as Navy nurses. Even though they were far from combat, 67 Army nurses were captured in the Philippines by the Japanese in 1942.

Women continued to break new ground in the U.S. military after WWII. Part of the reason for this was necessity. The way wars were fought changed over the 20th century. Due to modern weapons of warfare, such as scud missiles and roadside bombs, front lines were blurred and every soldier was at risk.

Mothers of all ethnic backgrounds have served in our US Military. Meet the late WWII Veteran, Essie O'Bryant Woods, who served from 1942-1945. She served as a Staff Sergeant in the famous first all-Black Female Battalion, 6888 Central Postal Battalion led by the famous MAJ Charity Adams-Ender(The first black military woman commissioned in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC). Mrs Essie passed away on Christmas Day this past year 2012. She was a few days short of turning 98.

Over 40,000 women served in the 1991 Gulf War and engaged with enemy forces on an unprecedented level. On September 5, 1990, the U.S.S. Acadia left San Diego for the Persian Gulf. Of the 1,260 on board, 360 were women. It was the first time American men and women shipped out together in wartime conditions. The 1991 Gulf War was also the first war where women served with men in integrated units within a warzone. However, women in the military suffered a setback in 1994 when Defense Secretary Les Aspin implemented a rule that prohibited women from serving in units "whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat."

Despite the 1994 rule, women continued to play more active roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, Leigh Ann Hester became the first female soldier to receive the Silver Star for exceptional valor in close-quarters combat.

As of 2012, women make up 14% of the U.S. military. More than 165,000 women are enlisted and active in the armed services with over 35,000 additional women serving as officers. The playing field was in fact leveled in January 2013, when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the ban on women serving in combat roles would be lifted. In a Jan. 9 letter to Panetta urging the change Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said, "The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service." The move reverses the 1994 rule that prohibited women from serving in combat. The change will be gradual; some positions will be available to women immediately but each branch of the military has until 2016 to request exceptions to the new rule.

So as we all remember our mothers this Mother's Day, don't forget about the women that suffer everyday in silence from the trauma of serving in our military, but yet are "Mommy's too." On this Mother's Day, we SALUTE our mothers who are also veterans, as well as our military wives. Happy Mother's Day!!

Source: U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard,