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NEWS | March 1, 2016

My Nominations for Woman of the Year

By Capt. Elizabeth Maley, commander Naval Health Clinic Charleston

We look forward to 2016 as the beginning of an era, affording new levels of complete and unbridled access for women in the armed forces. We must acknowledge that the base for many of these newfound opportunities was built and developed during the past year. Indeed, 2015 may find its place in history as the "Year of the Military Woman," because women from all services reached new heights and leveling the battlefield for men and women alike.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's announcement in December that all military occupations and positions will be open to women, was the culmination of a year full of first-time accomplishments for military women. A brief timeline of these achievements shows the depth and breadth of the military endorsing and embracing new levels of equality.

· In January, Army Brig. Gen. Diana Holland became the first female commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

· In February, Army Cpl. Erica Gunter was the first female Soldier in the 13M Military Occupation Specialty to become a non-commissioned officer and be assigned as a Multiple Launch Rocket System launcher chief. Army. Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, the first black and first woman to serve as adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, took command of the Maryland National Guard.

· In March, Marine Capt. Katie Higgins flew in her first performance as the first female pilot for the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration team, the Blue Angels. Coast Guard Capt. Brenda Kerr became the first female commanding officer of the Coast Guard's Base Portsmouth in Virginia.

· In April, the Army's Ranger School opened its doors to women, and 20 female Soldiers vied for the coveted black and gold Ranger tab. Two female officers, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, graduated the grueling school in August. Army Capt. Candace Hill became the first female to command a forward deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery when she took command of Battery D, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

· In May, Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau became the first woman to pilot the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon became the first woman to serve as the Army Europe command sergeant major. Coast Guard Capt. Lucinda Cunningham became the first black female to be promoted to the rank of captain in the U.S. Coast Guard. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Sandra Leigh Stosz was confirmed as Vice Admiral. Stosz has been a woman of many firsts, beginning in 1990 when she became the first woman to command a Coast Guard cutter in the Great Lakes. In 2011, she was the first female graduate of the Coast Guard Academy to achieve flag rank, and she became the first woman to lead a United States military service academy when she became the superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

· In June, 38 enlisted women were announced as the first cadre of enlisted female Sailors to train and serve aboard a submarine. Four of the female Sailors began their training at the Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Connecticut in August and graduated in October.

· In July, Navy Vice Admiral Nora Wingfield Tyson became the Navy's first female numbered fleet commander of ships when she became the commanding officer of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, based in San Diego. In 2010, Tyson was the first woman in Navy history to be named commander of a carrier strike group when she took command of Carrier Strike Group Two, comprised of 13 ships and 80 combat aircraft. Also in July, Navy Capt. Cheryl Hansen became the first female commanding officer of the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Mississippi. Marine 1st Sgt. Sigrid Rivera, Service Company first sergeant, Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, became the first female in Marine Corps Martial Arts Program history to attain a fourth-degree black belt.

· In August, Fleet Master Chief Susan Whitman became the first woman to serve as the top enlisted Sailor of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

· In October, Army Maj. Lisa Jaster, became the third female and the first female Army Reserve officer to graduate Ranger School.

· In November, Marine Lt. Col. Lauren Edwards became the first woman in Marine Corps history to assume command of an engineer support battalion when she became commander of the 8th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

· In December, Vermont National Guard Spc. Skylar Anderson became the first woman certified as a combat engineer. Lt. Gen. Nadja West became the Army's first black surgeon general, the Army's first female black lieutenant general and the highest ranking woman to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. In 2013, West was also the first black female major general of the Army's active component, and was Army Medicine's first black female two-star general.

In a sense, every woman in the armed forces is a trailblazer. Today's female service members face new challenges, take on new responsibilities and seek opportunities that are becoming available as equality is accepted throughout the armed forces. The women I've mentioned helped lead the way. They have been recognized and rewarded for their skills and accomplishments.

As doors are opened to roles of greater authority and opportunity, the same doors lead to greater responsibility. This responsibility comes with the knowledge that risk, danger and sacrifice accompany every position in the armed forces. We need to acknowledge those women who have made the equal and ultimate sacrifice in service of their country last year.

On Oct. 2, 2015, Airman 1st Class Kcey E. Ruiz, 21, of McDonough, Georgia, was one of six airmen who died after a C-130 crashed in Afghanistan. Ruiz had joined the Air Force after graduating high school in 2012.

A week later, on Oct. 11, Air Force Maj. Phyllis Pelky, 45, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, was one of two U.S. military personnel killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Pelky, a former humanities teacher at Rio Rancho High School, had been serving as an aide-de-camp to the superintendent of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and was assigned to the Academy's headquarters staff.

And on Dec. 21, 2015, Air Force Maj. Adrianna Vorderbruggen was among six U.S. service members killed during an attack from a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Vorderbruggen, a member of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, was the first female OSI agent killed while executing their duties.

Women have been serving alongside men, heroically, from our nation's beginning. As we look forward to building on the foundation of equality, solidifying the place of female service members in the U.S. military, let us remember that our goals and accomplishments are based on the long history of women in the military. These women worked hard and sacrificed much in their roles, as they too, pursued equality enabling our military forces to truly present themselves as representative of our citizens, our beliefs, our values and ideals.