Women have played critical roles in the U.S. military for decades and the Obama administration's recent decision to lift a ban on women in combat has furthered gender equality in the armed forces.
Hospital Corpsman Shannon Crowley, 22, a U.S. Navy Sailor working with the FET (Female Engagement Team) 1st Battalion 8th Marines, Regimental Combat team II patrols with male Marines, Nov. 18, 2010 in Musa Qala, Afghanistan. The U.S. had deployed 48 women along the volatile front lines of the war in Afghanistan, in order to gain access where men can't. The women, many of whom volunteer for the 6.5 month deployment, take a 10-week course at Camp Pendleton in California where they are trained for any possible situation, including learning Afghan customs and basic Pashtun language.
Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, accompanied by Marine Capt. Zoe Bedell, left, speaks in San Francisco on Nov. 27, 2012.
Hegar, a California Air National Guard pilot who served three tours in Afghanistan, was one of four female military service members who filed a lawsuit last year to challenge the Pentagon ban on women in combat. Hegar argued that excluding women from a draft reinforces a stereotype that they are less capable than men and need to be protected.
U.S. Marines Cpl. Reagan Odhner takes position during a patrol with Afghanistan National Army (ANA) soldiers in Sangin in Helmand Province, June 6, 2012.
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Walter Challapa (R) instructs an Iraqi female trainee at the firing range of a paramilitary training camp in Amiriyah, west of Baghdad, in May 2004. The female trainees are all employees at the camp, jobs that come with some risk since sections of Iraqi society view them as American collaborators. They helped take over the security of Iraq when U.S. troops finally departed, with some expected to join the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC), serving at checkpoints and searching women suspects.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Jessica Clymen talks to a young Afghan girl in the town of Musa Qala in Helmand, Afghanistan, April 9, 2011.
An Iraqi woman is searched by a female U.S. soldier in Tarmiyah, Iraq, April 12, 2009.
In this Feb. 22, 2013, photograph, Marines, both male and female, pause for a water break during a 10 km training march carrying 55 pound packs during Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Since 1988 all non-infantry enlisted male Marines have been required to complete 29 days of basic combat skills training at MCT after graduating from boot camp. MCT has been required for all enlisted female Marines since 1997. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female.
Pfc. Michaela Walker (L) and Pfc. Britney James (R) climb an obstacle on the Endurance Course during Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 20, 2013.
Pfc. Amanda Patterson, of Detroit, cleans her rifle during Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 22, 2013.
Members of Female Engagement Team (FET), U.S. Marines Cpl. Reagan Odhner (L) and GySgt Michelle Hill prepare for a patrol with Afghanistan National Army soldiers in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, June 6, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps female recruit Stephanie Palladino adjusts her Kevlar helmet before re-entering the Combat Pool for a swim lesson during boot camp on Parris Island, S.C., Jan.15, 2003.
President Barack Obama addresses troops at Fort Campbell, Ky., May 6, 2011.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Monica Perez, of San Diego, left, helps Lance Cpl. Mary Shloss of Hammond, Ind., put on her head scarf before heading out on a patrol in the village of Khwaja Jamal, Afghanistan, Aug. 10, 2009.
U.S. Marine servicewomen patrol in Basabad, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, March 9, 2011. About 40 Female Marines were deployed in Helmand province and Nimruz for the Female Engagement Team (FET) program to interact with Afghan civilians, specifically women and children.
Pfc. Angelica Lopez-Torres removes her body armor following a night-fire exercise during a combat marksmanship course at Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 20, 2013.
Female Marines run the Endurance Course during Marine Combat Training Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 20, 2013.
Marines, both male and female, pause for a water break during a 10 km training march carrying 55 pound packs during Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 22, 2013.
A female U.S. soldier stands watch during a Peace Concert at the Zawrak Park in central Baghdad, Nov. 7, 2008.