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    WAAC recounts military service

    REYNOLDSBURG, OH, UNITED STATES

    11.09.2020

    Story by Staff Sgt. Fatima Konteh 

    367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    REYNOLDSBURG, Oh. -- Cheryl Perry, a Reynoldsburg native and a retiree of Department of Defense finance, shares her experiences serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), which was once an auxiliary branch of the U.S. Army.

    WAAC, an U.S. Army unit created during World War II, enabled women to serve in noncombat positions. Never before had women, with the exception of nurses, served within the ranks of the U.S. Army.

    The WAAC originated in May 1942 with no military status that filled non-combat positions, freeing up men for the World War II battlefront. WAACs served on Army posts in the United States and overseas, under women commanders, with separate grade titles and pay schedules from men.

    In September 1943, Congress granted the WAAC military status and dropped “Auxiliary” from its name. Although women could have the same grade titles, pay, benefits and privileges as men, they could not command men’s units, participate in combat or rise above the rank of lieutenant colonel.

    The promotion restriction remained in place until November 1967, when Congress passed a law allowing women to compete for promotion to general and flag rank. Other policy changes followed, including permission for women to command men’s units, serve in combat support positions, pilot noncombat planes and remain on active duty while pregnant.

    The WAC was in its final months when Perry enlisted in November 1973. Her enlistment officer gave her the choice of being a pay clerk or personnel administration technician.

    “I genuinely enjoyed my job, and was really good at it,” she said.

    Perry underwent basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) as a personnel administration clerk at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland. By that time, she said, the cosmetics lessons and the PT shorts and skirts of the 1940s and 50s were long gone. Women wore fatigues like the men, but physical requirements were still less taxing.

    “We only had to run a half mile in PT,” she noted, as opposed to two miles for the men.

    In October 1978, Congress disbanded the corps as a separate branch of the Army, and the all-female units were integrated with male units. Perry said she and many of her fellow WACs saw the change as a natural progression of the women’s movement of the 1970s.

    “For women to move forward, it seems that it was necessary to disband the WAC,” she said. “Women are now in various positions working on armored vehicles and aircrafts and serving as pilots, attorneys, etc.”

    Perry said she did not face notable challenges at APG during integration of the units, but after AIT was complete, she was stationed in Korea.

    Perry noted both men and women don’t want to do certain kinds of jobs, but it bothered her when women used gender as an excuse. Eventually, she said she felt more accepted.

    “I think it was because I was determined to do my part and wasn't afraid to get my hands dirty. After they saw that it was no big deal, we got along ok.”

    Perry says she always thought the men didn’t mind having a woman in their ranks, if the woman would work and pull her own weight. In Perry’s case, that expression could be taken literally.

    When the WAC was being integrated with the all-male units, Perry said there were no briefings on what to do if she encountered sexual harassment.

    “Nobody ever really talked about that,” she said, and was is quick to add that she never personally experienced sexual harassment in the Army. This is not to say Perry never attracted unwanted attention, but it wasn’t from the members of her company.

    Perry’s enlistment ended in 1979 after she returned from Korea and was pregnant with her second son.

    “I started working at the Defense Construction Supply Center of Columbus in ‘81 in the Logistics Directorate, which was a garrison activity, and transferred to the Defense Finance Accounting Service where she would ultimately retire.

    While she never experienced sexual harassment in the Army, she has seen cases as a supervisor at DFAS.

    “A lot of people call it the ‘good old boy’ system. It’s not appropriate, and maybe an individual of a certain age thinks it’s ok to call you ‘sugar.’ Younger people are more open about a lot of things, and they probably don’t think that way,” she said.

    While the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault provides evidence of ongoing challenges for women in the workplace, Perry noted the significant changes for women she witnessed during her career.

    “I think women have actually come a long way,” she said. “There are more women in charge, but the younger generation doesn’t realize it.” She added that, because it’s all they’ve known, young people assume women were always allowed to hold positions of authority.

    Perry has been retired for about 10 years, and she loves working at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

    The WAC gave her an opportunity to display her professional skills whether she was on active duty or providing civilian service during a historic time for the U.S. Army.

    “I’ll never regret it,” she said. “I’m glad I went in.”

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 11.09.2020
    Date Posted: 11.09.2020 10:53
    Story ID: 382644
    Location: REYNOLDSBURG, OH, US 
    Hometown: REYNOLDSBURG, OH, US

    Web Views: 44
    Downloads: 1

    PUBLIC DOMAIN