Women in Combat: Been There, Done That

Women have been in war since time immemorial. Anyone who requires proof need only do a little research to find copious historical facts about female warriors, both individual and organized.

Just a few examples:

Deborah, one of the Judges of Israel. Source: The Bible (Book of Judges)

In 529 BC, Tomyris, Queen of the Massagetae in southwest Asia, led her armies in defeating the invasion of Cyrus the Great of Persia.

In 61 AD Queen Boudicca of the Iceni of Norfolk led a major rebellion against the Romans during which she sacked and burned modern day London and St. Albans.

Revolutionary War:

Margaret Cochran Corbin, born in Pennsylvania in 1751, was assisting her husband John with his cannon when he was killed on Nov. 16, 1776 during a British and Hessian attack on Fort Washington, New York. She took over the cannon and continued to fire at the enemy until she was seriously wounded and lost the use of her arm. In 1779 she was awarded a disabled soldier’s pension by the Continental Congress and in 1780 became the only woman enrolled in the “Invalid Regiment” which was stationed at West Point. When the “Invalid Regiment” was disbanded in 1783 Corbin remained in the area drawing her supplies from the commissary and being cared for by the military. She is buried in the soldier’s graveyard behind the Old Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where a bronze plaque commemorates her as “the first American woman to take a soldier’s part in the War for Liberty”.

Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley served alongside her husband, John Hays, in the 1st Pennsylvania Artillery and later in the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment. On the battlefield she carried water, swabbed out cannon bores and loaded shot. When John was seriously wounded in June 1778 while fighting at Monmouth, New Jersey, Mary ignored her own wounds and operated his cannon until the battle ended. After the war she was awarded a veteran’s pension of $40 per year by the State of Pennsylvania. She is believed by many historians to be the inspiration for the legendary “Molly Pitcher”.
Deborah Samson (some sources use the spelling Sampson) served with the 4th Massachusetts Regiment disguised as Robert Shurheff (some sources use the spelling Shirtliffe or Shurtliff) from May 1782 until October 1783. She was wounded in a skirmish near Tarrytown, New York and according to some sources was later hit by a musket ball in another skirmish at East Chester. Once her gender was discovered she was given an honorable discharge on October 23, 1783. After the war Deborah married Benjamin Gannett and had three children (Earl, Pauline and Mary). On January 19, 1792, at the urging of Paul Revere who was convinced she should receive a veterans pension, the Massachusetts legislature granted Deborah 34 pounds sterling with interest from her date of discharge. She died on April 29, 1827 and is buried in Rock Ridge Cemetery in Sharon Massachusetts. In 1944 the liberty ship Deborah Sampson Gannett was christened in her honor. On May 23, 1983 she was named the Official Heroine of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in 1985 was honored with a Commemorative Medal by the U.S. Capitol Society.

Civil War:

Kady (aka Kate) Brownell served as a markswoman with the 1st Rhode Island Infantry Volunteers during the Civil War. She fought openly as a woman in several battles alongside her husband Robert and guarded her unit’s flag during the first battle of Bull Run. In August 1861 the 1st Rhode Island disbanded and the Brownells each received a regular army discharge. They reenlisted in the 5th Rhode Island Infantry the following October. Although Kady was ordered to remain at the rear during engagements some contemporary accounts place her on the battlefield at New Bern, North Carolina where Robert was wounded. The Brownell’s were transferred to New York where Robert spent several months recuperating in the Soldier’s Relief Hospital. They were both discharged in the winter of 1863. In 1884 Kady Brownell was granted a veteran’s pension of $8 per month. A surviving photograph taken during her service with the 1st Rhode Island, shows her armed with a sword and wearing a knee length dress over pants.


In 1915 Madame Arno, an artist, organized a regiment of Parisian women to fight the Germans. Helene Dutreux was the first of a number of women the French government officially permitted to become military pilots during WW I. Emilienne Moreau fought in the front ranks in a number of actions including the Battle of Loos where she killed two snipers. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the Bristish Red Cross Medal and the St. John Ambulance Society Medal. In 1940 she once again fought for her country earning a second Croix de Guerre.


Elena Haas fought with the Czech Resistance. In 1944 she led a raid that destroyed a vital and heavily guarded bridge. Leading several other raids she destroyed Nazi supplies and ammunition as well as killing many of the enemy. She died in 1945 while leading a raid against an airfield.
About 1,000 women aviators were trained as fighter and military transport pilots, 30 of them were awarded the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union for their heroism in combat. Three aviation regiments, the 586th Women’s Fighter Regiment, the 587th Women’s Bomber Regiment and the 588th Women’s Night Bomber Regiment utilized only women pilots, engineers and mechanics. Major Tamara Aleksandrovna commanded a Russian all-female air-borne regiment on more than 400 sorties and 125 combat engagements. She and the women she commanded shot down thirty-eight enemy aircraft during aerial combat. Polina Gelman was a bomber pilot who flew 18 combat missions and was decorated five times.

There’s also plenty of examples from Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and OIF.

First All-female Crew Flies Combat Mission

Lioness: The Story of American Female Warriors

Army Specialist Monica Brow

Army Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester


I’m old school. Served as a US Soldier from 1976-2006 (20 Active 10 Reserve) and I could tell you some stories about females being used as comparisons whenever a point was to be made about, well, anything. You meet the demands of the job regardless. I was proud to serve and proud of the Soldiers I served with.

I come from a lineage of military family members who taught me that if you enjoy the fruits of America, you’d damned well better be willing to fight for it. I did. I earned the right to serve and fight in my nation’s wars, an honor that I am proud of. That’s what a Soldier is trained to do, regardless of gender.

If you choose to dismiss the historical and present-day accomplishments and sacrifices of thousands of military personnel because of their gender, that sounds like a personal problem.

I did two tours in Iraq and a so-called “peace-keeping” mission in Bosnia. Females endured the same hardships, dangers, and demands as our male counterparts. We lived and worked in austere conditions, lifted and carried heavy equipment, and never hesitated to assist in the effort to help the enemy die for their country. SCUD launches, mortar attacks, bunker sweeps, minefields, and bullets were shared by everyone, regardless of gender. As an S2 NCO, I jumped ahead of my unit in OIF via Black Hawk and Ground Assault convoy to set up forward intelligence operations. I dug hasty defensive positions and set up sectors of fire.

And for the assholes who call us ‘pogues’: Women ruck, shoot, we were outside the wire (a lot), we patrolled, got shot at, shot back, lived in the dirt…..who the fuck needs to be called ‘infantry’ when you have all that?

A comment from another female Soldier:

“Of course we were in combat!” said Laura Naylor, 25, who served with the Army Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. “We were interchangeable with the infantry. They came to our police stations and helped pull security, and we helped them search houses and search people. That’s how it is in Iraq.”

Women are fighting in ground combat because there is no choice. This is a war with no front lines or safe zones, no hiding from in-flying mortars, car and roadside bombs, and not enough Soldiers. As a result, women are coming home with missing limbs, mutilating wounds and severe trauma, just like the men.

All the women I interviewed held dangerous jobs in Iraq. They drove trucks along bomb-ridden roads, acted as gunners atop tanks and unarmored vehicles, raided houses, guarded prisoners, rescued the wounded in the midst of battle, and searched Iraqis at checkpoints. Some watched their best friends die, some were wounded, all saw the death and mutilation of Iraqi children and citizens.

Everyone has abilities and limitations, regardless of gender. The problem is that some people just can’t accept women being in wartime life-threatening situations, which is laughable because women around the planet are subjected to danger every damned day of the week.

So, if you’ve never been there, or you’re just too boneheaded to give women the fair shake we’ve earned, shut the fuck up. I’m sick of your bullshit.

I encountered males during my military service that were abject losers and slackers. And I also came across a few who could never accept women being anything other than a doormat.

After all the selfless service and sacrifice of women in war throughout history, you’d think people would have paid attention, and maybe, a little gratitude.

Duty, Honor, Country


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