American women have served in combat zones since the nation's birth in the 18th Century. Most of that involvement has been concentrated in the medical area, during the 19th Century as nurses, and during the 20th Century as nurses, doctors, and technicians.
The 20th Century also saw women performing active roles in military intelligence, mostly as analysts but occasionally also as collectors of information -- in effect, spies. Increasingly, however, as opportunities for women in the military expanded -- usually at the behest of Congress -- women became more prominent in what are known as "combat support" positions, for example, truck drivers and heavy equipment operators, helicopter and transport aircraft pilots, and so on. The real transformative period, however, was the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which saw the United States and a number of allied countries forcibly remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait, which it has invaded in August 1990. That fast-moving and violent conflict saw military women increasingly exposed to direct front-line combat. In one instance, a female American helicopter pilot was taken prisoner by Iraqi troops and held in a POW facility.
Of particular significance was Iraq's use of Scud missiles against U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia. The range and destructive potential of those missiles -- which endangered lives, regardless of gender, well into the rear, an area historically much safer from direct attack than the front -- convinced more and more members of Congress that the line between combat and noncombat soldier had been hopelessly blurred. Since that conflict, the role of women in the military has continued to expand to the point where more combat opportunties are now available to women. The rapid pace of U.S. combat operations has meant that even support jobs like truck drivers are no longer outside the combat zone. Jessica Lynch, an American Army private, was wounded, captured, and temporarily imprisoned in Iraq after the truck convoy in which she was riding was ambushed by Iraqi troops. Her wounding and capture further cemented the notion that women were an integral part of American military operations, and should be afforded the respect and benefits that entails.
Before moving on to the issue of racism, it should be noted that military women, as current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has noted, are frequently the victims of sexual assault by their male colleagues. Clearly, the challenge of integrating the sexes in the military is not entirely over.
The U.S. Civil War was fought over the issue of states' rights, but the principle right over which the Southern states were fighting to secede was slavery. President Abraham's 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was only the start of a long, often violent struggle by African-Americans for rights equal rights.
Key events would include President Truman's order desegrating the military (1948); "Brown v. The Board of Education" (1954); the murder of Emmitt Till (1955); Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a bus (1955); a Little Rock, Arkansas, high school being forcibly integrated (1957); James Meredith integrating the University of Mississippi (1962); Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C. (1963); President Johnson's signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the murder of 3 civil rights workers in Mississippi (1964); Martin Luther King assassinated (1968); and President Johnson's 1968 Civil Rights Act.