Women in the National Guard

Most days Tally Parham practices law, but she is also the first, and
currently the only, woman to fly F-16 fighter jets for South Carolina's Air National Guard.

As the National Guard reorganized its units after World War II, none of its ranks included women. Because of the Guard's dual federal and state mission, there was no central authority to grant women access to its ranks.

Starting in the mid-1950s, some Air Guard commanders received permission from the National Guard Bureau to employ female "augmentees", drawn from the Air Force Reserve, to work in their medical units. This policy permitted women officers to conduct "traditional" stateside training in Guard medical facilities. If these units were mobilized, the women would return to their Reserve "parent" organization and the Guard's readiness for deployment would be compromised. It was clear that women must be allowed to serve directly as members of the Guard in order to maintain unit preparedness.

In July 1956, Congress enacted passage of Public Law 845, authorizing female officers in the National Guard. New York Air Guard Captain Norma Parsons joined the 106th Tactical Hospital, becoming the National Guard's first female member. The Army Guard's first woman soldier was First Lieutenant Sylvia Marie St. Charles Law, who received her commission in January of 1957.

By the end of 1957 the Air Guard had 42 female nurses. The Army Guard, however, had only 11 nurses working in its 468 authorized positions. By 1960, only 56 women were included in a total Army Guard force of 401,765 personnel.

In October 1961, then President John Kennedy mobilized 44,371 Army Guard members in response to the Berlin crisis. Included in this mobilization were 17 women nurses - the first time Guard women had been mobilized. The Air Guard mobilized 21,067 people, but there is no record indicating how many were women. Throughout the 1960s almost all of the jobs open to military women were in the medical field, and only to officers. But the status of Guard women began to change.

On November 8th, 1967, Public Law 90-130 authorized the enlistment of women in the National Guard. All Army Guard enlisted women and officers, not in the Nurse Corps, were made members of the WAC. By 1978, with women integrated throughout the Army, the WAC was no longer needed. The Army Guard counted 13,353 officers and enlisted women among its ranks by 1978. With the advent of the all-volunteer force during the 1970s, women worked in many of the combat support and combat service support fields. Women were maintaining aircraft and ground vehicles, operating trucks and heavy construction equipment, and working in the battalion headquarters of some Army Guard artillery units in addition to many previous personnel, finance, and medical positions.

By the time the Gulf War began in 1991, more positions for women had opened up. This included jobs that put them in direct combat roles, such as fighter and helicopter pilots, and command positions, which exposed some female leaders to direct enemy fire. Such was the case for PFC Charla Shull, a member of the Missouri Guard's 138th military Police Company. Her company was on a routine training mission in Panama when Operation Just Cause began on December 19th, 1989. Her unit came under direct enemy mortar fire, making her the first Guard woman to come under combat fire. During the Gulf War, hundreds of Guardswomen deployed to Saudi Arabia where they performed various tasks to support the Allied effort to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Of the 34 active duty Guard members who died in the Gulf, eight were women.

National Guard Photo

After the Gulf War, women began assuming key leadership positions in the Guard. In 1991, Wisconsin's Sharon VanderZyl was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first flag officer in the Army Guard. In 1997, then Lieutenant Colonel Martha Rainville, from the 158th Fighter Wing made National Guard history.

Now a Major General, Martha T. Rainville is the adjutant general of the State of Vermont. She is the first woman in the 360-year history of the National Guard to serve as a State adjutant general. As adjutant general, she serves as the Inspector General and Quartermaster General of the 4,600 members of the Vermont Army and Air National Guard. As the head of the State Military Department, General Rainville manages five divisions within that Department. They include the Executive and Administrative; Property and Installations; Budget Accounting; Air Maintenance and Veterans Affairs Department. As the head of these Departments she manages a state appropriation of $2.4 million and a federal budget of $82 million.


General Rainville is a 1979 graduate of the University of Mississippi and a 1979 Distinguished Graduate of the USAF Officer Basic Military Training Program at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Her military career has primarily been in the Aircraft Maintenance Field with F-101, F-106, T-33, F-15, A-10 and F-16 aircraft.

Today, women comprise about 10 percent of the Guard - more than 35,000 soldiers. They serve all over the world, whenever and wherever needed.
Source: National Guard

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