Drawing on the strength of those before us

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
When I was in Airman Leadership School, one of my assignments was about an important Air Force milestone. It could be about any person or event.

After looking through a mountain of possibilities, I decided to focus my project on notable women in the military, specifically on Chief Master Sgt. Grace Peterson, the first female chief master sergeant in the Air Force.

At the time of her promotion in 1960, Grace Peterson was the first sergeant of a 400-strong Women in the Air Force squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

Chief Peterson, like many Airmen today, decided to enlist after one of the most tragic events in America's history.

During a 2010 interview at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., the retired chief master sergeant said, "I joined because of the horrors of Pearl Harbor, and I felt I had to do something about it."

Her choice to join the military after a tragic event resonated with me. When I was in the 11th grade, I watched the Twin Towers fall at the hands of terrorists. As a native New Yorker, it shook me to the core and led me on a path made possible due to the courage of trailblazers like Chief Peterson.

The theme of 2011's Women's History Month is aptly named "Our History is Our Strength." It is a time to look back and recognize how the actions of women before us have helped create a better world for women today.

Prior to the 1970s, many of women's contributions to society went widely unrecorded and were typically unacknowledged within school curriculums or even in the public consciousness.

According to the National Women's History Project at www.nwhp.org, in 1978 the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission in California sought to raise awareness of the achievements of women by initiating a "Women's History Week" celebration during one week in March.

The National Women's History Project petitioned Congress in 1987 to expand the national celebration to the entire month of March. By 1988, leaders from the California group shared their project at the Women's History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, N.Y. Other participants began their own local Women's History Week projects but also agreed to support an effort to have Congress declare a national Women's History Week.

In 2000, the United States Congress created the Veterans History Project, which included "Women at War," an addition of 12 women's stories into the "Experiencing War" web series located at the Library of Congress webpage: http://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-womenatwar.html.

The collection is comprised of interviews, letters, photographs and written memoirs from the women. "Women at War" covers four wars, beginning with World War II, the first conflict in which American women appeared in uniform in all branches of the armed forces.

Since Esther McGowin Blake enlisted on the first minute of the first hour of the first day on July, 8, 1948, the role of women in the military has been evolving. As we move forward, we should look back and remember those it made it possible.