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March is National Women's History Month

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Why celebrate National Women's History Month? It isn't a federal or a religious holiday, but rather an entire month set aside every year to remember, highlight, and celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of women, and the struggles they have had to overcome. 

No where is this more evident than in the United States Armed Forces. 

Despite the fact that in the early 19th century they were considered second-class citizens, women have been donning uniforms, fighting and even dying for our country for more than 200 years. 

Sarah Emma Edmonds served as a nurse, spy, and soldier (in a man's disguise) during the Civil War. Nurses worked under the harshest of conditions, tending to the wounded, sick and dying. In 1863, Dr. Mary Walker, a surgeon in the Civil War, was the first woman to be bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor. Dr. Walker was a pioneer fighting against the sex discrimination of her time. She was captured by rebel soldiers and was a prisoner during the last part of the Civil War. Though she found acceptance by her peers difficult, Dr. Walker persevered and was even known to cross enemy lines to help those in need. More than 33,000 women served in World War I and almost 500,000 took part in World War II. As recently as 1971, Dr. Jeanne Holm became the first woman general to serve in the U.S. Air Force. 

Over the past 30 years, I have witnessed many changes as women have continued to advance their place in history. 

In 1980, the Air Force Academy graduated their first 97 female cadets. In 1992, the Defense Authorization Act repealed the long-standing combat exclusion law for women pilots in the Navy and Air Force. In 1995, Air Force Lt. Col. Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot the space shuttle and in 1998, during Operation Desert Fox in Iraq, Navy Lt. Kendra Williams became the first U.S. female combat pilot to bomb an enemy target. 

Today there are over 200,000 active duty women serving in all different capacities in the military. Although they are not permitted to serve in every career field, women serve and protect our country alongside their male counterparts with equal enthusiasm and determination. 

It is through the study of history that we are able to expand our knowledge of the great accomplishments and contributions women have offered. It is through our actions that we will break down barriers and open doors. Take this month to honor the past, celebrate the present and look to the future as women continue to make their mark on history.

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