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Nearly a century after first enlisting as Yeoman during World War I, women are reaching new heights and continuing to make history across nearly every rank and occupation in the U.S. Navy.
Throughout March, the Navy joins the nation in celebrating Women's History Month and honoring generations of women in uniform who exemplify character, courage and commitment.
Women's History Month provides a special opportunity to share and celebrate the rich history of women's contributions in the history of our nation, said Dr. Regina Akers, a historian at Naval History and Heritage Command.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, more women have served in uniform than at any time since World War II, with more than 200,000 women across all military branches deploying in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, nearly 70,000 women make up 18% of the total Navy force throughout active and reserve components.
"It's really the varied backgrounds and experience, knowledge and training that make our Navy better," Akers said of diversity's role in the force.
Last year saw a variety of firsts for Navy women. In January 2013, the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff rescinded the 1994 direct ground combat definition and assignment rule, which removed barriers to certain military jobs based on gender. Later in the year, Vice Adm. Nanette Derenzi became the first female Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar became the first woman to command Navy Region Northwest after successfully serving as chief of staff for Commander, Navy Installations Command.
Four women currently serve as Fleet or Force Master Chief Petty Officers, the highest enlisted rank in the Navy.
The historic firsts continue into 2014, as Vice Adm. Michelle Howard was recently confirmed for promotion and a position as vice chief of naval operations. She is slated to be promoted later this year, and will be the first African-American and first woman to serve in the position.
"The contributions of our Navy women, and women in general, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have further expanded opportunities for women and has qualified them for promotions and career choices that might not have been available at the start of the war," Akers said.
Each generation of women in the military, from the foundations in the Nurse Corps in 1908 until now, has widened the path to success and increased women's chances to work in fields unavailable to women in previous eras, on and off the battlefield, Akers added.
"Everyone is not on the battlefield, but that does not lessen the contributions one may be making supporting those who are or treating those who are injured," Akers said of those women who fill vital support roles outside combat zones.
Today's generation of women in uniform continue to reach new milestones, building upon a rich history of service members dating back more than a century. For the generations to come, Akers said young people today can set high goals by looking up to women breaking barriers.
"Dream big," Akers said. "Don't limit yourself."