By Jon Connor
Deputy Commander-Regional Support, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 28, 2011 – The 1970s probably seem like a long time ago for today’s new soldiers, but for one officer serving in Afghanistan, the era is still a vivid memory of when female soldiers were treated differently than men.
Army Lt. Col. Kimberly Marlowe is reminded of that time whenever she glances down at a gold ring she wears on her left hand. The ring is a symbol of her time as a member of the Women’s Army Corps.
“We are a dying breed,” said Marlowe, 53, who is deployed here with Regional Support Command-South, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. Marlowe serves as the command’s transition officer for geographical and institutional functional areas.
When not deployed, Marlowe is an environmental quality analyst for the Military and Veterans Affairs Department in Grayling, Mich.
On her ring is a depiction of Pallas Athena, the insignia of the Women's Army Corps. Athena is a Roman and Greek goddess associated with a variety of womanly virtues. Athena, along with the traditional “U.S.” was selected for the lapel uniform insignia -- cut out for officers and placed on discs for enlisted women.
The Women's Army Corps began as the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in 1942, in the early part of World War II, but was shortened to WAC within a year. Its first director was Oveta Culp Hobby, a prominent society woman from Texas.
A physical training manual, published by the War Department in July 1943, aimed at bringing the female recruits to top physical standards. The manual begins by stating their responsibility: “Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over.”
While most military women served in the States during the war, some served in Europe, North Africa and New Guinea.
The thousands of women that served during World War II enabled the equivalent of seven divisions of men to fight. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable."
Women mainly served in administrative and nursing positions. During the Vietnam War women could only be in their 20s to serve in theater, Marlowe said. In 1972, 56,000 women were serving in the Army.
After the Vietnam War ended, much had changed in American society. The Army had changed, too, and recognized that the concept of having a separate women’s corps was outdated.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., began accepting female cadets in 1976. That year, 119 women were admitted. Four years later, 62 graduated and paved the way for more to follow.
The Women's Army Corps “dissolved because of equal opportunity,” Marlowe said. “The 60s and 70s were huge in women’s equal rights.”
In October 1978, President Jimmy Carter abolished the WAC -- women and men now would train together and be treated as equals regarding promotions, assignments and military protocol.
“The WAC had a lot of history," Marlowe said. "It just felt like that was being taken away.”
Yet, ending the WAC “was a good thing,” Marlowe said.
“Men and women started training together,” she said. “Women were taken more seriously. The men got to see them doing the same training they did.”
After completing 11th grade, Marlowe said she was sick of school and quit in 1975. Her mother told her to finish school or join the military. After earning her GED, that’s exactly what Marlowe did in November of that year.
“When I came in, I was a 17-year-old kid who hated school,” Marlowe said. The Army, she added, pushed her to excel.
Marlowe decided to become a military policewoman. “I just thought it would be fascinating,” she said.
Marlowe’s first three years in the Army were in the WAC. She served in Wurzburg, Germany, when the Army was still using the quarter-ton jeep.
After three years of active duty, she opted for National Guard duty, serving in the engineering field where she stayed for nearly two decades. She then left engineering and joined the 46th Military Police Command.
In 1989, Marlowe enrolled in Officer Candidate School after it was suggested to her.
“As an officer, maybe I could do more,” she explained. Fifteen months later Marlowe was commissioned as an officer in the Army’s engineer branch.
Marlowe also went onto earn a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife management in 1998 from Lake Superior State University, Mich. In 2006, she received her master’s degree in organizational management from Spring Arbor University, Mich.
In 1999, Marlowe was named the first female to command an engineer company -- an Assault Ribbon Bridge company -- in the Michigan Army National Guard.
“I learned a lot,” she said. “I had great soldiers working for me.”
In 2004, Marlowe transferred into military intelligence, and also taught Officer Candidate School for three years. She deployed to Iraq in 2008 and served in Mosul, Baghdad and Taji as a combat engineer adviser.
When she isn’t in uniform or at her civilian job, Marlowe runs a 20-acre farm breeding horses. She currently has 13 horses and two donkeys.
She also plans to stay in the National Guard until 2015 and then retire with 40 years of military service.
Looking back, Marlowe knows she’s come a long way -- a private running a traffic control point in Germany to a lieutenant colonel traveling the world.
“I’ve had a wonderful ride with this," she said. "There’s a lot of pride in this for me. For a kid coming up now, the opportunities are endless.”
Marlowe knows this firsthand. She has three children, with a son in the active-duty Army serving in Hawaii as a utilities equipment repairer. He was deployed in Bagram, Afghanistan, when Marlowe was in Iraq.
Marlowe’s choice of both an Army and civilian career has allowed her to experience the “best of both worlds,” she said.
However, “once you’re a soldier, you’re always that soldier,” she said.