Women have been a part of the Marines since 1918, when 305 women enlisted to serve during World War I; Opha May Johnson was the first inline. Johnson, like the other women enlisted in the Marines during World War I, was assigned to clerical tasks. In 1943 the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was created allowing the over 20,000 women Marines to serve their country in over 225 different jobs; including such tasks as radio operator, photographer, cook, baker, stenographer, control tower operator as well as many other jobs. Women made up 85% of enlisted jobs at the Marine headquarters and approximately one half to two thirds of permanent personnel at Marine Corps posts. In 1948 the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed, giving women the ability to join the Marines with a permanent status, either in the regular forces or the reserve forces.
Since 1948 women Marines have been involved in every major conflict and war that the US has been involved in. During the Korean War the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was called to duty for the first time in history. 2,787 women Marines were deployed to Korea. At the peak of the Vietnam War there were 2,700 women Marines on active duty, either stateside or overseas. 1,000 women Marines were deployed for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. As of 2013 the military removed its ban on women serving in combat, a rule that had been in place since 1994.
In Afghanistan female Marines not only served, but started Female Engagement Teams. A Female Engagement Team (FET) is a program that is made up of volunteer females of appropriate rank, experience and maturity. These women develop trust-based relationships with Afghan women they meet while on patrols. The FETs are able to reach out to Afghan women and provide support or assist them when needed. Many of the women involved in the EFT program do so because they want to make a difference in the Afghan women’s lives and they want a better understanding of how the Afghan culture. Because Afghan women have considerable influence over their husbands, the FETs hope that by sitting down and talking to these Afghan women and gaining their trust that the women will encourage their husbands to stay out of insurgent fights and focus on their families.