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Cannon highlights women’s equality

link U.S. Air Force graphic: Senior Airman Ericka Engblom

Dating back more than 150 years, the fight for women’s equality has a long and tangled history. Now, as more opportunities for women become available in the military, women are stepping into more roles.

27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Air Commandos of Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, recently came together during a Women’s Equality event to discuss, celebrate and pay tribute to the inspiring achievements of those who came before them.

Today, women in America are able to vote, hold office, own property, own a business and follow any dreams they might have. However, these privileges have been standard for so long that many may have forgotten the fierce struggles that women of the past went through to earn them.

The fight for women’s equality in the military has a similarly long and sordid history. It was only recently that women were allowed to earn positions that were previously reserved exclusively for males.

The journey began in 1942 when the Women Air Force Service Pilots was formed. Civilian women were trained to fly military aircraft on non-combat missions, the ideology being that this would free men up for combat. More than 25,000 women signed up to participate in this program, but only 1,830 were accepted; of those 1,830, only 1,074 made it through training.

A few years later, Esther Blake became the first woman to be enlisted in the Army Air Corps. She served at many bases and advanced to the rank of staff sergeant. Her courage opened the doors for other women to follow in her footsteps.

One such woman was Col. Jeannie Leavitt.

Leavitt was tapped to be a fighter pilot in 1992, making her the first of 700 female fighter pilots now operating within the Air Force. Leavitt continued to break down barriers throughout her career, becoming the first female wing commander in 2012.

Even more recently, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the announcement that he would be lifting the 1994 ban on women serving in direct combat on Jan. 23, 2013. This opened up approximately 237,000 jobs and countless opportunities for women to fight for their country and protect their homeland.

Despite these and many other noteworthy advancements, the invisible glass ceiling still exists. In many countries it is so low one might call it suffocating. For the Women’s Equality Days to come, it is crucial that individuals remember and reinforce the freedoms that have been bestowed to every man, woman and child. Those fortunate enough to experience gender equality must likewise remember the efforts of women long ago who had the courage to stand up and perform to a standard of excellence.