Seven words were all Lt. Col. Esther King needed to hear to jump-start her Army career: “Women do not belong in the Army.”
After hearing those condescending words, uttered to her by a male soldier during her basic training in 1981, the former medic and now Army nurse made it her mission to prove her doubters wrong.
“I was determined at that point to show them I was just as good and as capable as they were,” said King, now a soldier with the Warrior Transition Brigade. She served as guest speaker for the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and the brigade’s Aug. 23 joint celebration of Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the Aug. 26, 1920, adoption of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.
King credited both the 19th amendment and the women’s liberation movement with giving women the freedom to pursue their dreams.
“Thankfully, those women did not quit fighting after earning the right to vote,” she said. “Women 30 years ago couldn’t do anything outside traditional women’s roles without a huge struggle.”
The 1973 creation of the all-volunteer Armed Forces and the 2013 ruling that lifted the ban on women serving in combat brought lots of changes to the military, she said.
“Before, women in the Army would be discharged if they got married,” she said, adding that after married female soldiers were allowed to serve, they still had to contend with nasty comments such as ‘what would your husband think.’
“Now, even single parents can be in the Army as long as they have a caretaker transition plan,” she said. “This is very good for women who do not have a spouse.”
The Army Reservist, who came to the brigade from Fort Sill, Okla., where she was a supervisory nurse case manager at the Warrior Transition Unit, said one of the biggest changes she has seen in her two decades of military service is in leadership roles for women.
“Back then, women could not command men,” she said. “And now we see women in commanding positions all through the ranks who have all proven that they are a vital part of the Army today.”
King, who served four years enlisted active-duty before she left the service to attend nursing school, praised the women in today’s military, as well as veterans for standing up for their rights, especially in the fight to open more military occupations to women.
“When I joined, military occupation specialties for women were very limited,” she said. “Now, women have been given the right to join in direct combat roles.”