Exhibit shows role women play in America

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Since the earliest days, American women have fought alongside men in service of their country.

By Kim Figg ~ The Jefferson City News TribuneJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gunfire, blood and dying soldiers are normally considered a man's world. Certain women, though, saw the casualties of war and even fought for the cause as early as the Revolutionary War.

Women disguised themselves as men and began to fight along with the other soldiers. Until they were wounded or killed during battle, their true identity remained a mystery.

Physicals for potential soldiers were so lax, women were easily accepted into the ranks. Several women served their entire enlistment without ever being discovered, said Charles Machon, the historical services coordinator of the Museum of Missouri Military History at the Ike Skelton Training Center.

Machon has made it possible to get a more in-depth look at the history and achievements of Missouri's women who have served or are currently serving their country. He has created the Missouri Women's Military History display for both military members and civilians to enjoy. The exhibit will be on display at the Training Site throughout March.

During the Civil War, women became even more interested in taking part in the battles that erupted throughout the country. Women were trading dresses and corsets for a uniforms and muskets here in Missouri, too.

Because these women were secretly fighting, information is limited on Missouri's early female soldiers. Francis Clalin served for several months in the Missouri artillery and cavalry units during the Civil War. She was a part of Company I, 44th Missouri Artillery and Company A, 13th Missouri Cavalry and was assumed to be a man.

As years passed, the number of women taking a part in war-time situations increased. World War II saw a greater influence of women, Machon said.

"Women were flying planes overseas for combat, and nurses were right on the front lines during the war," he added.

Women in Missouri began creating military units while men fought on the other side of the world. The American Women's Voluntary Service was created in St. Louis, and worked with the 4th Regiment Missouri State Guard unit.

Kansas City also had a group of about 600 to 800 women join the 1st Women's Military Battalion, Machon said.

The groundwork was laid for Missouri's women who wanted the chance to serve their country. By the 1970s, the Missouri Air National Guard accepted women for enlistment.

Alverta Leslie Mooney helped to further women's role in the military by becoming the first African-American woman to enlist in the Missouri Air National Guard in 1972.

Missouri saw its first female guardsman fall in combat during the 1980s. Pfc. Carla Shull was on a routine training mission with her company in Panama when Operation Just Cause began.

The 1990s allowed even more opportunities for women, Machon said.

"We now have working mothers, which was not possible in the past, and positions previously off-limits are being filled by women," Machon said.

Heavy equipment operators, helicopter pilots and military police are just a few of the jobs now filled by women.

Thousands of women are serving in Iraq. Although certain jobs still are only filled by men, women are visible throughout almost every aspect of military missions.

Women are also working up ranks and no longer remain in subordinate roles. Almost all ranks are covered by women, Machon said.

"They are busting through the glass ceiling that used to exist because of their gender," he added.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Teresa Amos, the operations NCO for civil/military relations at the Missouri National Guard said she is grateful for her female pioneers.

"Because of them, I was able to join the Army and serve my country," Amos said.

Amos has been a member of the Army since 1985, and said she has noticed great improvements during the past 20 years.

"When I joined, it was a huge issue, and I didn't always get the support that I see for women today," she said. "It was just a different era back then, and people have changed."

Although there are still steps for women to climb, Amos said that the achievements already made are amazing.

"It's nice to see the pride in women who are in the military," she added. "Women now have no doubt that they can and will move up the ladder."

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