Critics of Congress' decision to open the doors of the Naval, Air Force, and Military academies to women were large in number and vocal. Especially outspoken were retired officers who claimed the military had become the politician's toy, a way to accommodate special-interest groups without losing the support of constituents back home, a test tube for social experimentation.
Members of Congress who had argued stridently for the sex integration of the institutions downplayed any suggestion that this change might lead to female graduates being assigned to combat jobs. Representative Samuel Stratton, who had introduced the amendment, declared that the academies did not train officers exclusively for combat, that only 90 percent of current academy graduates had served in combat assignments.
The point Stratton failed to mention, however, was not that "only" 90 percent of the academy graduates had served in combat or combat units, but that 100 percent had been prepared to do so--physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Even while the controversy was simmering in Washington and elsewhere in September 1976, 157 young women arrived at the Air Force Academy, located on a 17,878-acre site on a plateau in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, seven miles north of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The institution is the newest of the service academies, having been dedicated in 1955.1
This first contingent of women were the elite, having been carefully screened and selected from 1,039 applicants. Many had been star athletes on their high school female sports teams. Eighty-four percent had been in the top 10 percent of their high school class academically, and 79 percent had been named to the National Honor Society for scholastic achievement.2
The women doolies (recruits) would live and work here for four years in a close, pressurized environment where they would be outnumbered fifteen to one by male cadets. These teenagers--if they survived the demanding and often grueling regimen--would merge into womanhood in an isolation resembling a tour of duty on a deserted island in the Pacific.