Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman to receive the Silver Star, the third-highest U.S. decoration for valor, for direct participation in combat. In Afghanistan, Monica Lin Brown was presented the Silver Star for shielding wounded soldiers with her body. In March 2012, the U.S. military had two women, Ann E. Dunwoody and Janet C. Wolfenbarger, with the rank of four-star general. In 2016, Air Force General Lori Robinson became the first female officer to command a major Unified Combatant Command (USNORTHCOM) in the history of the United States Armed Forces.
As in most militaries, members of the U.S. Armed Forces hold a rank, either that of officer, warrant officer or enlisted, to determine seniority and eligibility for promotion. Those who have served are known as veterans. Rank names may be different between services, but they are matched to each other by their corresponding paygrade. Officers who hold the same rank or paygrade are distinguished by their date of rank to determine seniority, while officers who serve in certain positions of office of importance set by law, outrank all other officers in active duty of the same rank and paygrade, regardless of their date of rank. In 2012, it was reported that only one in four persons in the United States of the proper age meet the moral, academic and physical standards for military service.
The human capital shortage may be worse than the shortage in ships. A report by the Maritime Administration to Congress highlighted the problem. The report “estimates that 11,768 qualified mariners ... are available to crew the Ready Reserve Force ... the estimated demand for mariners [in an emergency] is 13,607.” Given the shortage, those mariners who are available “may have to endure prolonged assignments or tours of duty until the emergency is over,” which will decrease effectiveness, increase errors and — of greatest concern — delay deploying the forces necessary to win a large-scale conflict.
The academy, now celebrating its 75th year of service to the nation, reduced the entering-class size from 350 midshipmen per year to some 270 years ago. The infrastructure is there to support larger classes (but not the budget), making this revitalization of the student body an obvious first step. An increase in class size would assure the nation of additional committed Merchant Marine officers available to man any vessels that the U.S. might need to utilize in a national emergency. As investments in national security go, this one is inexpensive.
Battlefield commission: under certain conditions, enlisted personnel who have skills that separate them from their peers can become officers by direct commissioning of a commander so authorized to grant them. This type of commission is rarely granted and is reserved only for the most exceptional enlisted personnel; it is done on an ad hoc basis, typically only in wartime. No direct battlefield commissions have been awarded since the Vietnam War. The Navy and Air Force do not employ this commissioning path.
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Direct commission: civilians who have special skills that are critical to sustaining military operations and supporting troops may receive direct commissions. These officers occupy leadership positions in law, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, intelligence, supply-logistics-transportation, engineering, public affairs, chaplain, oceanography and others.
The primary reason for the existence of the military is to engage in combat, should it be required to do so by the national defence policy, and to win. This represents an organisational goal of any military, and the primary focus for military thought through military history. How victory is achieved, and what shape it assumes, is studied by most, if not all, military groups on three levels.