Women in the ranks

By Carolyn Davis
Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted on Thu, Dec. 10, 2009

Deborah Samson would be brimming with envy over Marine Lance Cpl. Ryann Campion’s current tour of duty in Afghanistan.  In 1782, enraged that women were not allowed to fight the British in the Revolutionary War, Samson used the identity of her deceased brother Robert Shurtliff, cutting her hair and dressing in men’s clothing to join the Continental Army. She became a heralded soldier – and the first woman to fight for her country.  Campion’s enlistment required no such extraordinary efforts. A few years ago, the 19-year-old from Hatboro merely walked over to Marine recruiters near a local car show as they challenged passersby to try a pull-up bar.  “I hopped up. After I was done, I talked to them for a brief moment and I was hooked,” Campion writes in an e-mail from Afghanistan, where she is a driver, cook, and member of a female military team that interacts with Afghan women.  In the nearly 230 years of service separating Samson and Campion, women have become an essential part of the U.S. military.  “Forget about wars. I don’t think we could staff our military without being able to get half the population to participate, and half the population is women,” says retired Army Col. Jim Martin, now a professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College.  George Wright, Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said there are unique advantages to having servicewomen in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The role of women has been very helpful to us in dealing with the local population,” Wright said. “We’re finding that women are more adept and successful at reaching out to the local women.”  Worldwide, women make up about 14 percent of U.S. active-duty forces – the largest percentage in the country’s history.  Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, women have accounted for 11 percent – or 231,876 – of the 2,022,975 U.S. service members in those conflicts. Figures from the end of October show 26,683 women currently deployed in those operations.



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