Get unlimited digital access to $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Op-Eds

Character, courage, commitment [Commentary]

Throughout the month of March, we celebrate the history of American women whose contributions blazed trails for women's empowerment and equality. We look to the past to commemorate their stalwart determination to break down barriers in the face of adversity; and we look to the future as we continue this legacy of our mothers and grandmothers.

Against social convention and often legal restraints, women have created a legacy that expands the frontiers of possibility for generations to come. They have demonstrated their "character, courage and commitment" — this year's theme for Women's History Month — as soldiers, mothers, educators, relief workers and leaders in the worlds of business, labor, politics and religion. Their example inspires others and encourages boys and men to respect the diversity and depth of women's experience.

The character, commitment and courage of women have been demonstrated time and time again in the defense of this nation's principles and interests. They have served in the United States Army since the American Revolutionary War in 1775, both uniformed and civilian, with distinction in every war this nation has ever fought. They tended the sick, mended clothes, served as spies and even armed cannons on the battlefield.

During the attack on Fort Washington, N.Y. in 1776, Margaret Corbin served as her husband's ammunition handler, standing by his side. When he was fatally wounded, she immediately took his place at the cannon until she was also wounded.

In 1782, at 22 years of age, Deborah Sampson became the first woman known to enlist as a soldier in the American Army. She put on male clothing, adopted the name Robert Shurtliff and enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. Sampson was wounded in her left thigh during the Battle of Tarrytown in New York, and, to keep her secret safe, she treated herself.

Eighty years later, during the U.S. Civil War, Dr. Mary Walker served as assistant surgeon with Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Union forces. She was captured by Confederates in Chattanooga, Tenn. and imprisoned in Richmond, Va. as a spy. Eventually, she was released and returned to serve as a hospital surgeon at a women's prisoner-of-war hospital in Louisville, Ky. After the war, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor. Dr. Walker is the only woman to have been awarded this highest honor.

A great deal has changed in the 145 years since the Civil War. The move to the "all-volunteer force" led the Army to begin recruiting women aggressively for the reserve components. As with the active force, recruiting, training and opportunities improved for women. By the end of September 1978, the Army Reserve had approximately 25,000 members of the Women's Army Corps, which was the women's branch of the United States Army, and the Army National Guard had over 13,000.

Women were certainly ready, willing and able to meet the needs of our nation, be it in their backyards or overseas, even though opportunities to do so were not as prevalent as they are today.

And the number of women serving in the Army continues to grow, even though any deployed soldier —regardless of their gender, military specialty or unit mission — may find themselves in hostile action.

Today, the Army Reserve's mission benefits from the leadership, resiliency and technical proficiency of over 45,000 female soldiers — 22 percent of the Reserve force. This includes approximately 36,000 enlisted, 8,000 officers and 500 warrants in 305 diverse career fields. Our team must maintain its combat edge during this period of persistent conflict and constrained resources; this would not be possible without the contributions of its female soldiers.

We must carry on the work of the women who came before us and ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements and no remaining ceilings to shatter as they continue to serve as the strength of the Army Reserve and the strength of the nation.

Chief Warrant Officer Five Phyllis Wilson is Command Chief Warrant Officer of the U.S. Army Reserve. She advises the Chief of the Army Reserve/Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command on matters pertaining to training and education, career management, leader development and warrior transition issues for warrant officers within the Army Reserve. Her email is; Twitter: @wilson_phyllis.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Googling America's sex life
    Googling America's sex life

    Google knows my dress size and that I wear flats. It knows I do yoga, and it is always trying to sell me clothes to wear to class.

  • Fund the student, not the college
    Fund the student, not the college

    President Obama's "America's College Promise" plan proposes to make the first two years of community college free to address a number of concerns: American competitiveness, inequality and the bad odds that less advantaged students face in obtaining good jobs.

  • Improper race and religion references in Adnan Syed trial
    Improper race and religion references in Adnan Syed trial

    The trial that culminated in the 2000 conviction of Adnan Syed has been a hotly debated subject in recent weeks, largely because of the popular "Serial" podcast that examined the case. That debate will no doubt intensify in light of a brief that Mr. Syed's current counsel filed this month...

  • We could have predicted Cake Wars II
    We could have predicted Cake Wars II

    We should have seen this one coming.

  • Does Maryland have the political will to restore the bay?
    Does Maryland have the political will to restore the bay?

    On Oct. 4, Jay Sadowski, an avid fisherman and hunter, died of leukemia at age 59. The cancer was discovered while he was being treated for a flesh-eating infection he contracted while fishing in the South River near where Gov. Larry Hogan lives. The infection ravaged his body even before the...

  • Volunteers are needed year round, not just during the holidays
    Volunteers are needed year round, not just during the holidays

    For many families, groups of co-workers and friends, and individuals, volunteering is one of the most meaningful winter traditions. During the December holiday season, they may serve meals or collect food and clothing. In January, the Martin Luther King, Jr. national Day of Service is wonderful...