November 13, 2015 — In 1976, women were allowed to enter the service academies for the first time. Before that, women were allowed to serve in the armed forces, but primarily in the capacity as nurses. With their entry into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy, the nature of women’s service in the armed forces would change.
But not quickly.
In 1978 they were permitted to serve only on non-combat ships for the Navy and the Marines. The Persian Gulf War (1991-1992) was the first conflict that saw a significant number of women (approximately 41,000) deployed in combat zones.
But the entry of women into the Armed Forces as fighters has certainly not been without issue or controversy. The acceptance of females in combat zones has come slowly. The abuse of women by other service people remains an issue. But in 2015, women are a significant part of our military personnel.
That was not true in 1981, when Nick Broomfield made the documentary Soldier Girls in which he followed and filmed a platoon of women undergoing base training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. Women were still a rare and new commodity in the army, and many officers were not happy to see them there. They endured harsh(er) treatment and different forms of abuse than the average male recruit. The women who go through the training change in ways they probably could not have imagined before they started.
It was reviewed by Janet Maslin in The New York Times. She wrote ”Solider Girls is an extraordinary look at a platoon of women undergoing basic training at Fort Gordon, Ga. The enormous strain the women are under, the sadism of their superiors and the element of role-playing inherent in Army life combine to create some tremendously dramatic moments, which have been recorded most effectively by Nicholas Broomfield and Joan Churchill. Scene after scene in Soldier Girls shows the truth to be much, much stranger than fiction. ‘Private Benjamin,’ indeed.”
Watch Soldier Girls now.
Other Nick Broomfield documentaries:
Aileen Wuornos:Selling of a Serial Killer
Chicken Ranch, the story of a legal brothel in Nevada.
Who Cares? about slum demolition and what happens to the former residents.
Driving Me Crazy, about the making of a glitzy musical production.