KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - More than 50 years ago, Rosalind P. Walter found herself working the night shift at a local sheet metal factory, building the Chance Vought F4U Corsair, an American fighter aircraft primarily used during World War II.
She, among many women at the time, had the burning desire to provide help for the soldiers fighting over in Europe during this time by working in support roles such as nurses, administrators, mechanics and other non-combat roles.
While most people know her as the original “Rosie the Riveter,” the fictional poster-woman dressed in a red bandana and greasy mechanic’s suit flexing her arm, saying “We Can Do It!” lining the top of the ad.
Although the actual woman depicted is not Walter (the real woman’s name was Geraldine Hoff, a factory worker herself from Michigan), her influence, combined with the support roles provided by women during this time period, started a movement.
That movement eventually led to Congress passing the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which granted women permanent status in the military, subject to the same military authority and regulations as well as the benefits male soldiers received.
Fast-forward 64 years later, and the role women are playing within the armed services is bigger than ever.
As the month of March, which marks the International Women’s Appreciation Month, gets underway, female service members now play in nearly every same role as their male counterparts across all five branches of the military.
That progress is seen throughout Afghanistan, as a 13-year war comes to a close - with the U.S., as well as its coalition partners, having stepped back and continuing to serve in an advisory role to Afghan National Security Forces.
A big part of that advisory role is the development and integration of Female Engagement Teams, who serve as trainers and mentors to females within the ANSF.
Spc. Donna Diaz, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, works as one of those trainers, and talked about the importance of not only the mission, but also the impact her specific role has had on the overall strength of the ANSF since her arrival in Afghanistan.
“It is really important to me to be a female and do the thing I love which is the military,” Diaz said. “We change the world.”
As the times change, so did the role of women in the Army.
“I love serving this country and I am proud to be a female soldier,” she added.
Another area where women continue to provide a critical role is health care.
During a time where women were regulated as nurses and medical assistants, the change in culture now sees women playing more prominent roles, especially overseas.
No one proves that more than U.S. Navy Capt. Mary E. Neill, who serves as the commanding officer at the NATO Multinational Medical Unit hospital, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
In February, she became the first female commander at the NATO MMU since it’s inception in 2005.
Neill talked about that role and it’s importance to the overall mission of providing medical care to service members in need.
“In simple terms, my job is to keep people within this hospital safe,” Neill said. “I am responsible to remove or mitigate the opportunity for bad people to harm us here. Along with that, I support a world-class staff that is dedicated to trauma and treating the injured. I make sure they have everything they need to do that job.”
She also talked about the pride she has in being a woman serving in her position.
“Honestly, I don’t even think about being the first woman to serve in this position,” Neill said. “People tell me that or ask me that all the time, and I really didn’t even think about it until I got here. I’m no longer surprised, and that says a lot about how far we’ve come.”
While combat and medical care are two of the more “seen” jobs within the armed services, women also serve in smaller, specialized roles, like a weather forecaster.
Senior Airman Amanda Yeakley does just that, serving as a battlefield forecaster at KAF for Regional Command (South).
Her work provides adequate weather updates as well as key atmospheric data that allow the command staff to dictate and formulate mission plans as well as flight schedules.
“My job is to provide current and forecasted weather to the combined joint operations center here at KAF,” she said. “Pilots and aviation assets use that information to plan missions as well, so I need to accurately provide them with the most up to date forecast as possible.”
Yeakley talked about the importance of her role, and how much her work is depended on within the battle space of Afghanistan.
“It can be overwhelming at times, but I have gotten used to it, I know a lot of people depend on me,” she said. “I really enjoy what I do and being in the Air Force too. I am proud to wear the uniform.”
Whether it is helping increase the capabilities of another country’s security forces, saving the lives of a wounded service member, or providing an accurate forecast to RC (S) leadership, women continue to serve important roles within the armed services.
It may not be sheet metal, but it’s safe to say, Rosie would be proud.