WASHINGTON - Women's issues made big news throughout 2015, from those making it through grueling the Ranger School, to the appointment of the first black female Army surgeon general to Defense Secretary Ash Carter opening up all military occupational specialties, or MOSs, to women.
Here are some of those highlights:
All occupations open to women
On Dec. 3, Carter announced that beginning in January 2016, all Defense Department positions will be open to women, without exception.
For the first time in U.S. military history, as long as they qualify and meet specific standards, the secretary said women will be able to contribute to the mission with no barriers at all in their way.
"They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry Soldiers into combat," Carter added. "They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men."
Even more importantly, he said, the military services will be better able to harness the skills and perspectives that talented women have to offer.
In a memorandum to the secretaries of all military departments and others, Carter directed the military services to open all MOSs to women 30 days from Dec. 3 - a waiting period required by law - and by that date to provide updated implementation plans for integrating women into the positions now open to them.
Carter's announcement came after the Army had been opening many new positions for women in recent years.
For example, on Feb. 25, then-Army Secretary John M. McHugh signed Directive 2015-08, opening more than 4,100 positions to women in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
About 1,000 positions were opened to women following the 2013 rescinding of the Direct Ground Combat Rule by the defense secretary. This paved the way for more women to serve in direct combat roles and in MOSs that were previously open only to males.
Women earn Ranger tab
For the first time in Army history, two women were among the Soldiers who received the coveted Ranger tab Aug. 21.
The two female Ranger School graduates were 1st Lt. Shaye L. Haver and Capt. Kristen M. Griest, both also graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, who attended the graduation, said Ranger School is the Army's "most grueling" leadership course, in a statement. The course no doubt stretched all 96 graduates "to and beyond their physical and emotional limits," he said.
"I'm proud of everything each of these Rangers has endured and I am confident they will go on to serve our Army and our nation. For those who have made it through this arduous course, you know that there is only one standard: The Ranger standard."
Addressing the graduates, Milley said, "You carry the title of Ranger. From here on out, your subordinates, your peers, your leaders, will always expect you to be able to handle the toughest tasks.
"They and your country will expect you to move further, faster and play harder than any other Soldier," he said.
And then there was another.
When Maj. Lisa Jaster graduated from the Ranger course, Oct. 16, she became the third female Soldier to earn the Ranger tab.
A lesser-known distinction setting Jaster apart was the fact that she is one of several thousand Soldiers, who serve their country under the auspices of a specialized component of the Army's Select Reserve - the Individual Mobilization Augmentee, or IMA, program.
Jaster is a U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduate and mother of two, married to a Marine Corps Reserve officer. In her civilian career, she is a project manager with Shell Oil Co. - specializing in oilfield issues. As a Soldier with MOS, 12A, engineer, she transferred from active duty to IMA status in May 2012.
A surgeon general first
Lt. Gen. Nadja West became the Army's first black surgeon general.
West became the Army's first female black lieutenant general and the highest-ranking woman to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
The Senate confirmed West Dec. 9 for the position and Acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning administered the oath of office to her Dec. 11, making her the Army's 44th surgeon general and commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command, or MEDCOM.
West most recently served as the Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon.
The Army surgeon general provides advice and assistance to the Army secretary and chief of staff on all health care matters pertaining to the U.S. Army and its military health care system.
Woman with two firsts
This month, Brig. Gen. Diana Holland was named the first female commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. She will assume command as the 76th commandant of cadets during a ceremony scheduled at West Point, Jan. 5.
Holland is serving as the deputy commanding general (support), 10th Mountain Division (Light) on Fort Drum, New York. She will replace Maj. Gen. John C. Thomson III, who relinquished command of the Corps of Cadets during a ceremony at West Point. He has been named commanding general, 1st Cavalry Division on Fort Hood, Texas.
Acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning praised the selection of Holland. "Diana's operational and command experiences will bring a new and diverse perspective to West Point's leadership team," Fanning said. "She is absolutely the right person for this critical position."
"I am very honored to be named the next commandant of the U.S. Corps of Cadets," Holland said. "It's a privilege to be part of the team that trains and develops leaders of character for our Army. I look forward to continuing the legacy set by Maj. Gen. Thomson and all previous commandants."
Holland's other first was her previous assignment to 10th Mountain Division, which had never had a female general.
First for Maryland
Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, the first black and first woman to serve as adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, took command of the Maryland National Guard on Feb. 28.
"This is huge - just for the progress of women in leadership," Singh said.
Singh discussed the challenges of starting off in the Army as a young female enlisted Soldier in the 1980s. She recalled how, at the dawn of her career, a first sergeant told her that because of her pregnancy, she would not make it through advanced initial training. But of course she proved him wrong.
Retrospective of progress
Female Soldiers and civilians at the Pentagon had an opportunity to learn and trade ideas on how to empower themselves at a symposium, March 23.
In recognition of Women's History Month, the Army G-8 and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller held its fifth annual women's symposium.
Krystyna M.A. Kolesar, who serves as deputy director for program analysis and evaluation in the G-8, kicked off the event, telling the back stories of women's firsts and their contributions, such as Delilah L. Beasley, a newspaper columnist and historian who was the first black to be regularly published in a major metropolitan newspaper. She also talked about the impact of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote on Aug. 18, 1920, even though President Woodrow Wilson had opposed suffrage.
Hosting the symposium, Lt. Gen. Karen E. Dyson, military director to the assistant secretary of the Army (financial management and comptroller) and one of only five three-star women Soldiers, introduced the panel of two colonels and two Army senior executives.
"What you have here are some very complex women who are on our team and every one of them has a graduate degree and has either been through senior executive civilian training or one of the many war colleges," she said, adding that they had all worked at different levels in and outside of the Army as well as in different defense agencies and at the White House.
"They really demonstrate to all of us, the richness that they've built within their own careers over the years by having the courage to travel," Dyson said. "When I say the courage, it does take a little bit of courage to travel, though for the colonels, it was a bit easier for us because we sort of got told along the way where we would be going.
"That might be a question to ask yourself - are you on a career path that you're happy with," she said. "Sometimes it's not our choice to travel, but it forces us out to do things, completely different things… that can be marked by change and opportunity -- sometimes the change creates the opportunity -- sometimes the opportunity creates the change."
(Contributors included David Vergun, Cheryl Pellerin, David Ruderman, Gary Sheftick and J.D. Leipold)