RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Recently, while reading daily news and scrolling through social media news feeds, I could not avoid the headlines, posts and comments about the very recent developments concerning women’s issues. Major events are being recorded, both positive and negative, which may be read in news articles and school textbooks for years to come.
In light of the difficulties, men and women around the world are continuing to raise awareness for the fight to respect women as equals. From commemoration events to peaceful demonstrations, people are thinking of creative ways to help empower a demographic, which has been marginalized for thousands of years.
However, there is a specific group of women I would like to focus upon.
I am talking about more than 200,000 women who serve in the military. Women who wear the same uniform, swear the same oath, fight for the same country and march in the same boots as men.
Very early in my Air Force career I read a biography of Staff Sgt. Esther Blake, the first woman in the Air Force.
According to Air Force history, Blake enlisted “in the first minute of the first hour of the first day” when the Air Force opened regular duty to women in 1948. Before joining the newly independent Air Force, she served in the Women’s Army Corps to support the U.S. troops during World War II.
She was quoted as saying she joined the WAC to “free a Soldier from clerical work to fight, thus speeding the end of the war.”
While her reason might raise some eyebrows in the 21st century, her desire to serve her country and help win the war is undeniable.
Today, women who wish to enlist in the Air Force are no longer limited to clerical work. Women can serve as pilots, security forces, civil engineers, medical technicians and much more. Women serve in every rank from airman to general. In late 2015, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared all combat roles in the military open to women.
It takes courage to join the military at a time when the combat ranks are heavily dominated by men. It takes courage to raise a hand and pledge your life to something greater than yourself, knowing your life is no longer your own. It takes courage to work endless hours just to get by, and then come home knowing you have a lot more responsibilities waiting for you. It takes courage to do all of that knowing there are people who doubt you because of your gender and still come to work with them every day.
There is another woman I would like to highlight, one who is very personal to me — one of my ancestors, Teresa Magbanua.
You may not have heard of her. She was a housewife-turned-military leader who defied social norms to fight for her country.
When the Philippine Revolution broke out in the late 1800s, she followed her two brothers into the war. She led troops into battle against the colonizers – and often won. Even after her brothers died under mysterious circumstances, she kept on fighting. She won the confidence of her troops, who called her “Nay Isa,” or “Mother Teresa.”
During World War II, she participated in the conflict by providing supplies to resistance fighters and did not use old age as an excuse not to serve her nation.
Both Blake and Magbanua took up arms, marched for something they believed in and fought for their countries.
My wife, my mother and my sisters constantly inspire me. They have made significant contributions in my life, and I would not be who I am today if not for them.
They stood by me in my difficult times and sacrificed things that were important to them for the sake of my future.
At the end of the day, I live by this principle, which I hope others will adopt. Although made differently, men and women are equal.