MAKERS: Women in War

WOMEN IN WAR looks at American women’s increasing participation in war — from Vietnam to the present — as nurses, soldiers, journalists, diplomats and spies. Among those featured are the first woman to lead troops into battle, battlefield war correspondents and military leaders who have broken through gender barriers, including a retired general from USMC, and the highest- ranking woman in the history of the U.S. Navy. Narrated by Christiane Amanpour.

Video Transcript


- Historically, war is often what defines manhood. When you wanted to prove that you were a man, you had to participate in a battle.


You know, in certain kind of warfare, men, on average, have an advantage. And that is one-on-one combat, traditionally with heavy bladed instruments. However, we haven't been fighting wars that way for maybe 300, 400 years. This male domination in the military was, in a sense, biologically doomed when everybody started using guns.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: For more than two centuries, the defense of America was a man's job. Women were in the army for one reason, and one reason alone-- to free men for combat. But after their heroic contributions in World War II, women soldiers, sailors, Marines, and aviators begged to differ, and began to demand recognition and equality. The story of how American women eventually claimed the right to serve with men began in the early 1950s, when a new generation of young women began searching for something different.

PAT FOOTE: After I graduated from college, I vowed I was not going to be a secretary. But every place I went for interviews, the only thing they wanted to know was, can you type? And no, I could not type, and if I could, I wouldn't have told them.

At which time, I met the first woman I'd ever met in uniform. I asked her what the Department of Army might have to offer. And she gave me a booklet on the officers training program for the Women's Army Corps, the WACs.

- Look at this chic taupe uniform by one of the country's foremost designers. Accentuating smooth, flowing lines, it complements your responsible Army job.

PAT FOOTE: The first thing I learned was, as a woman in the military, I get the same pay a male lieutenant would get from the start. The very same pay. But the line that captured me was a line emblazoned boldly that said WAC officers do not type. I told my parents, I'm joining the Army. He and my mother looked at me, she said, well, if I were 25 years younger, I'd probably do the same thing.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Though women filled jobs throughout the armed forces, they were kept far away from actual combat duties. By law, they were assigned to support roles, such as nurses, secretaries, and public affairs officers. Additionally, their advancement was officially capped to never rise above the rank of lieutenant colonel or commander, and their enrollment limited to no more than 2% of the total force. This exclusionary policy remained firmly intact upon the onset of the Vietnam War in 1964. Thousands of Army nurses were assigned there, some directly into combat zones.

- There is nothing like a dame, and the dames have finally come to the South Vietnamese war. This week, about 38 pretty young American Army nurses landed at Queen Yard to help set up a huge mobile field hospital. These girls were in good spirits, like most of the Americans in Vietnam.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Diane Carlson Evans was an 18-year-old nursing student when the war began to escalate.

DIANE CARLSON EVANS: It's 1966, and the war is winding up. And I am drawn to it.


I was in nursing school, and every night, I watched the six o'clock news. My 4H buddy was killed in Vietnam. So all around me, I'm feeling this sense of loss. But despite that, I wanted to help. So I went downtown Minneapolis, found an Army recruiter. And she said, well, if you volunteer for the Nurse Corps, the Army will pay your senior year as a student nurse. So I decided to go. And my dad held me in his arms and burst into tears and said, I have four sons, and I send my daughter off to war.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Diane Carlson Evans, like all the nurses who served, arrived in Vietnam unprepared for the combat theater.

PAT FOOTE: Not a woman came trained in the use of a firearm, equipped with a firearm. No combat training, no field training, no nothing, in a country where the combat zone was 360 degrees around you.

DIANE CARLSON EVANS: One night, when we were rocketed, I was in bed. It was so close that everything on the walls went down. The orders were not to run to a bunker, but just crawl under our bed, because we might not get to the bunker.

In Vietnam, we were in the combat theater. The only difference was we could be shot at, but we couldn't shoot back.

PAT FOOTE: We didn't do what they did. We didn't serve where they did. And it was that type of thing that constantly kept the men referring to us as second-class soldiers.

- Women with ambitions for a career in the Army will just have to pray to God, and hope that she will help them.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But the necessities of war itself slowly began to change things. Faced with an escalating conflict, the military badly needed personnel. In 1967, President Johnson lifted the 2% cap on female enrollment, and hinted at more sweeping changes to come.

- And so here today, in the East Room of the White House, we will end the last vestige of discrimination, I hope, in our armed forces. The bill does not create any female generals or any female admirals, but does make that possible. There's no reason why we should not someday have a female chief of staff.



Or even a female commander-in-chief.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The policy stopped short of allowing women in combat roles, but it did lead to the enlistment of thousands of women, many hoping to make careers in the military. These new opportunities came at a time when women throughout society were demanding equality. But many liberal feminists, allied with the anti-war movement, opposed them.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: You know, as a feminist, I had sort of mixed feelings. I'd rather we weren't involved in wars. But if there is a military, and it is an avenue for upward mobility for men and women, then women should have equal opportunities.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In the early 1970s, with the Vietnam War winding down and the draft abolished, the military began reinventing itself. Now an all-volunteer force, it needed to aggressively expand recruitment. Young women were definitely part of the marketing plan.

- You have more to say these days about your education, your appearance, your occupation, and your role in life than any young women have ever had in history.

- The Air Force is the now place to be, right where it's happening. The US Air Force is the largest scientific and research organization in the world. That means a lot of jobs, exciting, glamorous jobs open to a girl.

- All this is yours in the new Navy, and you will receive the same pay as a man doing the same job, and get the same advantage as a man. It's opportunity, advancement, good pay, equality. The new Navy is together, all together.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The message resonated, as more than 25,000 women began signing up every year.

Angela Salinas was part of this wave of new female recruits.

ANGELA SALINAS: I was a sophomore in college. I will tell you, I did one thing really well, which was I could party. And what I found was, after two years, I was the last in my class, about ready to drop out or thrown out, not really sure what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. In the military, not only was I going to learn discipline, but I was going to get this sense of belonging.

- [INAUDIBLE] ceremony room.

ANGELA SALINAS: I just kind of did this, you know, on the spur of the moment. And my mom and dad had no idea. And a woman joining the Marine Corps in 1974 was not in the top 10 list for parents. At the time, there were about 180,000 Marines. Less than 2,000 of them were women.

- Raise your right hand and repeat after me.

ANGELA SALINAS: And even my recruiter, he looked me in the eye and said, you're joining an institution that, right now, doesn't really want women. But about four days later, I was at Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp. And when I got there, the first thing that they gave us was what they called a professional package. And in that was learning how to apply makeup, because we had regulations. You know, the color of the lipstick, and how it would match the cover of your hat, and what you could wear in your nail polish. We had hair classes, as well.

- Cleanliness is very important for the hair. You have to know how to shampoo the hair, and do it frequently.

ANGELA SALINAS: The military was kind of struggling as to how to adopt, you know, more women into the military, and here's this image of what a woman Marine should look like. But the very next day, I'm meeting a drill instructor, and me standing there, thinking, oh my gosh, what have I done.

- You females have to lower your chest and your rear end, also, not just your rear end.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Women were being sent to basic training alongside men. Integration was on a fast track, but it was not going as smoothly as hoped for.

- What we found was that they do not have the stamina and the physical strength to keep up with the males.

- Raise your buttocks.

- And push.

- Raise your buttocks.

- OK.

- Raise your buttocks.

- So you end up with a bastardized training program calculated to work to the lowest common denominator. The lowest common denominator, in that case, is the average woman.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Despite the best efforts of female recruits, integration was facing opposition from both inside and outside the military.

- The question is, do we want to treat women just like men? And the answer is no, we don't.

- But the service will have-- the services will still have the right to determine who goes into combat.

- Oh, but ERA will prevent them from doing it on the basis of sex.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: For conservative activists, the prospect of women in combat was the ultimate threat to traditional values.

- If the Equal Rights Amendment were ratified, these girls could be forced to go to combat. God didn't intend women for NFL football or combat.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: By the mid 1970s, as the fight to ratify the ERA heated up, feminists finally recognized that supporting women in the military was an equality issue. In their crosshairs were the all-male service academies-- West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy. Under threat of lawsuit, the Pentagon opened their doors to women. And with the promise of becoming officers, young women flooded the academies with applications.

HEIDI BROWN: The academies opened to women the summer of '76. I was in high school, and I was certainly interested in what was happening. I had an uncle who had graduated from West Point, and I thought, I can get a college education, I can be in the military, I can do all these things I've always wanted to do.

I arrived at West Point on the 7th of July 1977. There were about 1,200 total cadets in my class, and of those, 104 were women. West Point is so steeped in history, it was just exciting to know that MacArthur, and Eisenhower, and Patton, and all these people who preceded me, and doing much of the same thing that they did-- that was very exciting.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Despite the enthusiasm young women had for entering the academies, some traditionalists were clearly skeptical of the new female officer candidates.

- Founded in 1845, the Naval Academy at Annapolis will never be the same. Government issue now specifies Miss Universe panties, Legs pantyhose, and Maidenform's Shape Me Sweetly bras. Oh, shiver me timbers.

MICHELLE HOWARD: In the '70s, when I went to the Naval Academy, the first years were pretty tough. You're changing an entire institution. And it'd been all-male. And there were still lots of folks who didn't want us there.

- It's for combat officers, and the way Congress has it now, women cannot serve as combat officers. So I think it's a waste of a lot of money.

HEIDI BROWN: The seniors and the juniors that were still all-male classes, they did not embrace the change. An example is a male upperclassman in your face, inches from your nose, calling you four-letter words and telling you that you needed to resign and go home, that it was his institution and you needed to get out of there. You just had to bite your tongue and put up with it.

MOLLY MOORE: There was opposition all over the place to letting women into the military. First thing they would say, it's going to ruin the cohesion of our unit. And because, you know, guys will be more interested in, you know, dating one of the women or having sex with them, and oh, they're just going to mess up all of our teamwork out there.

- Front guard, ho.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: By the 1980s, it was clear that the only way women were going to change the culture of the military was by earning respect on the ground. And despite official combat exclusion, that moment would come.


- I have a statement here. We are sending a brigade-sized force to Panama to augment our military forces already assigned there.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In December 1989, 27,000 US troops invaded Panama, including 2,000 women in support roles. Among them was captain Linda Bray, who led a 205-member police unit.

LINDA BRAY: When I took command, I was 29 years old. And I had the responsibility of all these people. We were told that this was going to be friendly, that the Panamanians knew we were coming, and that this was to be like a show of force. When we got down there, we did surveillance of the building where we were supposed to set up a command center.



Soon as I heard shots fired, I ordered to my soldiers to fire back. Everybody was firing, one way or another.


Eventually, people surrendered to us, and that was it. Then I was hit with a category five media frenzy.

- For the first time in US military history, a woman led men into combat.

- Do you feel that women are now adequately trained to go into combat roles?

- What do you think? Do you think the rules ought to be changed?

LINDA BRAY: It was so bad, I couldn't even do my job without having some reporter asking me some questions.

- Your role has renewed the talks back here at home and in Washington as to whether women should be allowed to go into combat. What are your feelings on whether they should be allowed to go into combat? Should the rules be changed?

LINDA BRAY: So then my commander came up to me and he said, Captain Bray, you do know the military's opinion of women in combat, right?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Though the military would rather have kept it quiet, Bray's actions forced a very public debate over the longstanding ban on women in combat.

- What we've really seen happen is that the only thing that the combat exclusion has done is it doesn't keep women out of combat, as we've well seen down in Panama, it really keeps them from promotions in certain areas. So we're really telling them that this is their career and they want to do this-- remember, this is a voluntary army-- and that they're capable of doing this, then we say, no, you can't do it because of your gender. And that doesn't make any sense.

- Ben, go ahead.

- I-- I-- I find it almost repulsive, Pat, that you would suggest that this nation, with our democratic values and our heritage, cultural heritage, would, in fact, encourage drafting women into front line combat units-- that's really an extension of your argument-- where they're deliberately exposed to more risk.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Just a year after Panama, another conflict brewing halfway around the globe would again challenge the military's policy on women in combat.

- Clear!


- Good morning, everyone. The Middle East, the most dangerous part of the world, is an even more dangerous place this morning as a result of the Iraqi invasion of the small, but very powerful economic country of Kuwait.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Some 40,000 women, along with 10 times as many men, were deployed to the Persian Gulf. And in a first for the American public, the buildup to war was televised live, in real time, for all to see.

- Women warriors. They've been deployed to the Gulf in record numbers, but that still hasn't stopped some Americans from questioning their presence. Technically, they're not in combat roles, though on this modern battlefield, they are clearly in harm's way.

MARTIN DEMPSEY: There were conversations at higher levels than me about deploying women into this environment because, if you recall, the casualty estimates were quite staggering. The estimates were staggering. And in fact, we also anticipated the use of chemical weapons. So I'm sure that, in echelons above me, there were conversations about, you know, whether we should deploy women into that environment. But their responsibilities were, quote unquote, behind the front lines.



MOLLY MOORE: I was reporting from Saudi Arabia during the buildup. And as the war got closer, the scud missiles started raining down on the [INAUDIBLE] airport. And of course, that's where huge numbers of women were working. So very quickly, you saw that the front lines had become blurred.

- So essentially, women are already in combat. It's a play on words, as far as I'm concerned. There's 28,000 women here already, and they're doing all sorts of jobs.

MOLLY MOORE: I was getting letters from readers, what are these women doing out there, you know, they're like distracting our men from their job, and how dare the military have these women in these kind of jobs.

- You know, I don't know exactly how these women are going to handle this. I think this should be a man's war here.

MOLLY MOORE: There was a lot of outrage, especially among more conservative types. But on the other hand, there were people saying, wow, women are out there doing the exact same thing men are doing. And so why do we have all these stupid combat exclusion laws?

- I feel that any job that's put upon a woman, that she can do it, except I'm not going to say combat is for every woman, because it may-- because it's not, just like combat not for every man. Every man may not be able to handle it, either. But if the situation comes around where a woman does have to go into combat, if she's a strong enough woman, or man, then they should be able to take care of that situation. She'll be able to handle it.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Indeed, when the Gulf War broke into open combat in January of 1991, women did find themselves in the thick of it. Rhonda Cornum was a 30-year-old Army surgeon who was stationed close to the Iraqi border.

RHONDA CORNUM: And we deployed out into the desert on the 1st of January. So we took our unit and we were kind of part of the band of folks that were preventing a further invasion. And so over the radio comes there's been this F-16 pilot, he was shot down, he's got a broken leg, he's out in the middle of the desert, will you guys go get him. So we thought, you know, what a great mission. So wop, bop, bop, we went off to get him.

Two Apaches went with us to provide security. We flew for about 30 minutes into Iraq. And we got really close, but the ground just opens up, and they're just shooting everything they've got at us. And so we all peel off, and we just didn't make it. And they shot the boom off the helicopter, and crashed.

So splat, it was the end. And so the next thing, I come to come to, and I really thought-- I thought originally I was dead. And so I tried to turn over, I looked up, and hm, there's five guys with guns pointed my head. So not dead. But you know, obviously I was captured because that's the only choice.

They throw us in the back of a pickup truck, and there's a couple of Iraqi soldiers back there with us. And then the guy next to me starts fondling me, and he's trying to kiss me. So he starts to take off my flight suit, and I realize that both arms were broken.

There's no way with two broken arms you can fight anybody off, so I didn't really-- there was nothing-- there was fighting to be done. But when he tried to take the flight suit off my arms, I just couldn't stand it, and I screamed. And he stopped. So I was molested, but not actually raped.

- While women weren't supposed to fight on the front lines in the Gulf War, some got there anyway. Major Rhonda Cornum looked the enemy straight in the eyes. She spent a week as a POW in Iraq before the war ended, and she was freed along with other prisoners.

RHONDA CORNUM: By the time I get home and I'm out of the hospital, the phone just starts ringing. And it's like two weeks later. And it's like everywhere. There's "People Magazine," and they're like, and I had no idea that this was a big deal. And I'm just thinking I'm going to do rehab and go back to work.

- Did you fear for your life or were you worried that you might be raped by the soldiers?

RHONDA CORNUM: Well, that wasn't the biggest thing on my mind, no. I figured-- I knew I would survive that, so that was not the biggest fear in my life.

It just falls into the category of what bad thing can the enemy do. Well, it was certainly invoked as a reason for women not to be in combat. And I said, well, first of all, I came through it, and obviously, you know, I'm not dead, so that's not a good reason. Second of all, I knew this was a risk when I took the job.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: By the time the Gulf War ended, the competence and courage of women soldiers was undeniable. But Rhonda Cornum's experience with sexual assault on the battlefield reopened the debate on the vulnerability of women in combat situations.

- Personally, I am not eager to increase exposure of our women to additional risk.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But it would be far from the battlefield, at a hotel in Las Vegas, where one event would fundamentally expose the issue of sexual assault within the military itself, during an annual Navy convention called Tailhook. Among those attending was Lieutenant Paula Coughlin, a 29-year-old helicopter pilot from a family of aviators.

PAULA COUGHLIN: Tailhook was a civilian convention for naval aviators. There was this euphoric feeling among all these male aviators, and the female jet aviators, too, that they had gone in and done the mission and come out victorious and, you know, they finally got to really drop some bombs and do some real war. I mean, Tailhook '91 was a big party. And we're talking thousands of people.

I was there as the aide de camp for an admiral. So I was attending the formal dinner and those kind of things. The chief of naval aviation had an open forum, and a female aviator stood up to ask a question. And she said, when do women get to actually start flying missions and get credit for flying combat missions?

- I was wondering, sir, when you plan to implement that, and if it's going to be soon.

PAULA COUGHLIN: And she got catcalled and booed. That was really the tone, that this was a man's club, and women really weren't supposed to be there. That night, after dinner, I get off an elevator on the third floor, and it's really crowded. And then somebody started yelling admiral's aide, so they knew I was what we'd call a high-value target.

The first group of men that kind of came in on me started grabbing my breasts, reaching under my skirt, grabbing my butt. And you know, I can give an elbow or slam or kick, and I think this is getting-- it accelerated quickly. And I ended up on the floor. I just fought. I fought my way out.

The next morning, I told my boss what happened, and he said, well, that's what you get when you go down a hallway at Tailhook, you know, full of drunk aviators. That's what you get. So I contacted the chief of naval aviation at the Pentagon.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In response to Paula Coughlin's complaint, her boss was fired. The Navy conducted its own criminal inquiry, but it became clear that naval officers were stonewalling the investigation.

PAULA COUGHLIN: It set the tone again not that there was a crime that occurred and let's find the bad guys, it was a crime has allegedly occurred and everybody batten down the hatches. It was damage control. And then the [BLEEP] hit the fan.

- Good evening. The US Navy's reputation for bawdy behavior caught up with it today. The Secretary of the Navy has resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal and charges of cover-up that has implicated some of the Navy's best and brightest aviators.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: With the investigation now fully public, other women came forward with their own stories.

- Men were grabbing me everywhere. Many men. As many hands as could fit on my body.

- I was screaming and holding onto my clothing.

- I thought for sure we were going to be gang raped.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Congress held its own hearings and publicly criticized the Navy for its unwillingness to examine its culture.

JOHN MCCAIN: That is, frankly, as serious as the original incidents themselves because it indicates that there may be an attitude, a severe, endemic attitude problem here that clearly needs correction.

PAULA COUGHLIN: Senator McCain banged on the desk and said we've got to, you know, do something about this. And they did nothing. So I told my story to the Washington Post. And that was viewed by everyone in the military as heresy.


I served in the military for 10 years, and I was basically drummed out. But if me telling my story would bring about some real change to the way women were treated in the military, then that's what had to happen, because bigger than me is that they are accepting criminals remaining in the ranks, and protecting them. There was a code, and I don't think I knew the code. My code was different.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The investigation found that 83 women had been assaulted at Tailhook. And although many naval officers lost their jobs, no one was prosecuted for his actions.

- How can we get a community, whose mission is tough, to understand that there is a certain line you can't step over?

- The attitude is we didn't want women here in the first place, somebody pushed them on us, and therefore, if they're here, we don't have to treat them as part of our service.

MOLLY MOORE: I've talked to, you know, dozens and dozens of women who've gone through things similar to Tailhook, or along those same lines, and they-- you know, they are shut down every time they try to report it. They're just trying to say, oh, you're trying to cause trouble. It hurts them in advancement, in rank. So you know, the military, if there's one thing the military hates, it's a troublemaker, and especially a female troublemaker.



HEIDI BROWN: When I was a first lieutenant, I was sexually harassed by my commander. And he came pounding on my door one night, drunk, and saying a lot of stuff. You know, open that door, you know you want it, blah. The next day, I just went into his office, I slammed the door, and I said, if you ever do that again, I'm going to destroy you. I regret to this day I didn't report him. And I should have because I've perpetuated the problem, right? I mean, that's what this has been all about, is we don't stop it.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Post Tailhook, the military began mandating sensitivity training throughout the ranks.

- You know what the topic is, sexual harassment.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: It was becoming apparent that sexual harassment, and worse, could no longer be ignored.

- Let's talk about sex. Let's talk about sex. Now, I'm telling you soldiers that, if she says no, that means no.


MARTIN DEMPSEY: When you're in the military, what you're thinking about is does that individual to your left or right know what they're doing, and can you trust them. This issue of sexual assault erodes that trust. That's what makes it so dangerous, frankly, to our profession.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The military was slowly, but surely, adapting to a changing cultural and political environment.

- Let's go.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Not only at home, but also abroad.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, a new enemy was emerging, one which would challenge the institution to rethink the nature of war itself.

In February 1993, a truck bomb exploded in a garage beneath the World Trade Center, killing six people.

- Let go, let go, let go.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The attack signaled a new and potent threat to America's security-- terrorism. Overnight, America would have to master a different kind of warfare, one that prized psychological sophistication over frontline combat skills.

Gina Bennett was the first person to publish a warning about the man who would become America's most wanted enemy.

GINA BENNETT: In August of 1993 I offered a briefing about Osama bin Laden. We didn't really know who he was, and we didn't know his complete history at that time. But a lot changed between '93 and '98.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Following the simultaneous bombings of two US embassies in Africa in August 1998, President Clinton authorized cruise missile strikes on Osama bin Laden's training camp in Afghanistan. Bin Laden escaped unharmed.

But bin Laden's motives and future plans were in many ways still a mystery. It took fresh ways of thinking to delve beneath the surface of this threat.

AMBASSADOR HENRY CRUMPTON: When I got to the counterterrorism center in '99, I had multiple discussions with Gina as she showed me her findings and walked me through what threat this represented to our homeland. I don't know if Gina, or any of the analysts, really, was adequately recognized because we as a nation did not fully appreciate the threat. Not until 9/11.

GINA BENNETT: I was standing next to a female colleague, and we were looking up at the monitor. When we saw the second plane hit, we both looked at each other, you know, just locked eyes for a second and knew, we knew, who did it. We went back to our desks without talking. And we started plowing through every shred of information we had ever seen to try to understand what was coming next.

AMBASSADOR HENRY CRUMPTON: There was a preponderance of women analysts in the counterterrorism center. And they performed remarkably well. But not only their analytical strengths, but a deep, empathetic understanding of why adversaries do the things they do.

GINA BENNETT: I think women just had an intuitive sense that we need to step back and really map this and understand it to every detail down at every level. We're patient, tenacious, and strategic in our perspective, very long-term in our focus.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In the years after 9/11, as women's roles were expanding within the CIA headquarters, so too were their roles outside the agency in covert operations. But the popular image of the female spy was badly in need of an update.

- This glamorous spy tricked top officers into revealing vital information.

- When she slips on her bikini, clips on her grenade earrings. and sets out in search of adventure, things really happen.

VALERIE PLAME: When I see how female CIA operatives are portrayed in popular culture, most time I end up rolling my eyes. This whole honey trap notion is complete nonsense.

Women that went into operations were historically in support roles. In many ways it was a little bit like Mad Men with security clearances. The girls got the coffee. But in the mid-'80s, there was a dawning recognition that white, Anglo-Saxon males are not always one's best suited to acquire intelligence.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Valerie Plame began working with the CIA in the mid-1980s. And though much of her career remains classified, she would become a key on-the-ground asset in the effort to track terrorist threats.

VALERIE PLAME: I developed my expertise at the CIA on nuclear counterproliferation, which is essentially making sure the bad guys do not get nuclear weapons, whether it's terrorists, whether it's rogue states, these operations that I worked on in some cases took years of planning. And one wrong judgment call can bring all that tumbling down.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Valerie Plame was on a covert foreign assignment when President Bush declared his war on terror.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Plame's husband, retired diplomat Joe Wilson, knew the claim to be false. After repeatedly failing to convince the Bush administration to retract it, he publicly challenged them with an op-ed in the New York Times. In retaliation, members of the administration blew his wife's cover, sacrificing Valerie Plame's career in favor of justifying the march to war.

VALERIE PLAME: The conservative columnist, Robert Novak, who's gone now, had written that I actually work for the CIA. And it was devastating.

They went after my husband. They were furious that he would have the audacity to question their reasoning, their rationale. And then they went after me.

It was just catnip for the media. Here was this ambassador and his blonde CIA wife. And they focused on that rather than wait a minute. Why haven't we found WMD in Iraq?

So this story started to spin out of control. So they were throwing anything they could at it. My husband was called a liar and a traitor. But the misogyny was really quite something.

- What did the woman do? Was she really a covert spy? Do we know exactly what her role is?

- We really don't know. And they have never said. Some people tell me she was an analyst. But Mr. Ford--

- But I think that's relevant.


- We need to know if she was a spy or if she was a, you know, glorified secretary.

- But in Mr. Novak's original column, you said she was an operative.

VALERIE PLAME: He called me a glorified secretary. And it was sort of-- it was so clear that what he really wanted to say is, she's a girl. Come on. How could she possibly have worked in operations? That tells you a lot about our society.

I want to believe that gender would not factor in to national security. Whether it's weapons of mass destruction or terrorism, women have a really important role to play in that.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Despite those who would try to diminish their contributions, women were playing ever more essential roles in the defense of the nation, many roles that had traditionally been filled by men. But in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were assigned a job that only they could perform-- the female engagement team.


- Also Afghanistan is very rural. And the folks out there had never experienced seeing a woman soldier or anything like that.

- If you show your hair, it's kind of like seeing a nude photo of you, because the women are very covered up. So it's more of just to be respectful to the population and show them that we are trying to understand the culture and that we're trying to be as respectful as possible when we're doing these kind of engagements.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The teams were deployed to gather intelligence from Afghan women about the location of Taliban forces.

- The American soldiers-- the men-- they couldn't go talk to women. So they needed those women soldiers to go in to make contact with the women in the villages because that's where they got a lot of their information.


STAFF SERGEANT JUANITA TOWNS: In my third deployment to Afghanistan, I was on the female engagement team, which changed me a lot. We were interacting with the females because the male soldiers weren't allowed to do it. We did a lot of searching because it was known Taliban everywhere. We were looking for weapons, pistols, any type of contraband that they're not supposed to have.

The job was kind of dangerous, but actually being able to get out there and do patrols like my brothers do is just-- just different than my first two deployments.

GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: In Afghanistan, every service man or woman fundamentally confronted the same threat as everyone else. There was no frontlines. There was no rear. There was just an environment.

So this notion that you could somehow segment a piece of the environment and suggest that it's more applicable to the presence of women soldiers, it just fell apart. It was-- it was an anachronism of history at that point. One of the lessons of these conflicts was that not only were women capable, but they made us a better military.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Heidi Brown was one of over 25,000 women deployed to Iraq at the start of the war. She led an air defense brigade of over 2,000 soldiers.

HEIDI BROWN: I took command of my brigade in July of 2002. I was the only woman air defense commander in Iraq.

We were selected to go with the first group of vehicles through the north towards Baghdad. One of my group of soldiers got separated from the convoy. And somebody opened fire on him.

The convoy was split into three parts. One part got out. One part were killed. And one part were taken prisoners of war.

When I got a phone call, it was the colonel of my headquarters who said, we've confirmed the identity of the remains. And they are your soldiers. I think about a parent losing a child. That's probably one of the worst things that could happen to a person.

It was a horrible time. We conducted a memorial service for our fallen soldiers. And then we went through what seemed like an eternity trying to figure out what the status of our prisoners of war were. And then we found out by watching CNN.

- Breaking news on the status of the POW Jessica Lynch. The US central command confirming early Wednesday the rescue of her.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: 19-year-old Jessica Lynch became front page news following her dramatic rescue from an Iraqi hospital. Injured in the ambush, she had been held by the enemy for nine days. She was the first woman POW to ever be rescued. And she instantly became a media sensation.

TOM BROKAW: One of the most dramatic moments of this war occurred early Wednesday morning.

LARRY KING: Wounds, but not wounds that are critical.

KATIE COURIC: --who wanted to come home and teach kindergarten.

WOLF BLITZER: I'm getting some information about Jessica.

- --is said to have fought fiercely before being captured.

- Actually, Jack, maybe this is her they're about to put on the stretcher.

- See the camera right there.

- Can you smile? Can you smile for-- for the family?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The event created a brand new image of the woman soldier, one who is both a heroic fighter and a damsel in distress.

In Jessica Lynch's case, the truth was far more mundane. And she resented being singled out because of her gender.

JESSICA LYNCH: The media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting. It was not true. The bottom line is, the American people are capable of determining their own heroes, and they don't need to be told elaborate lies.

The truth of war is not always easy. The truth is always more heroic than the hype.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The truth was, despite official combat exclusion policy, women in the military were edging closer and closer to actual combat assignments.

But by 2009, the experiences of women in combat were impossible to ignore. One story would center on an air National Guard helicopter pilot named MJ Hegar, who flew over 100 search and rescue missions in Afghanistan.

MJ HEGAR: On my third tour in Afghanistan, we launched on a medevac to a convoy who had hit an IED and was under ambush. There were three urgent American casualties that we were trying to get out of there.

As we came in, I took a round through the co-pilot's windshield that fragmented into several pieces. And I got injured in my arm and leg.

Even though there was a lot of blood, we decided to pick up our patients and get out there. But as soon as we landed, we realized pretty quickly that we weren't going to make it all the way back home. The aircraft was too badly hurt.

So the patients exfiltrated on our sister ship and got out. We were taking a lot of small arms fire. But we didn't know where it was coming from.

- [INAUDIBLE] That was all.

MJ HEGAR: And then these two little two-seaters came in. So I jump on the skid. And as we were lifting off, I can see where the enemy is.

So I raised my rifle and started returning fire without any hesitation. I have that warrior spirit, and it came out.

When people tell me that women shouldn't be in combat because they'll never be accepted into the band of brothers, I think about that. The fact that I had been a proven combat warrior, somebody who can keep their calm while the bullets are flying, someone who is a competent person who pulls their weight, I should be afforded the opportunity to use those skills and to fight and defend and protect the things that I believe in.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In 2012, MJ Hegar became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ground combat exclusion policy.

- A new challenge to the Pentagon's ban on women serving in combat. Four female service members have filed a lawsuit for the right to fight, saying the policy as it stands now blocks them from advancements that are open to men who serve in combat.

MJ HEGAR: My commander said, well, do you feel like you've been discriminated against? And I was like, well, it's not about that, Sir. It's about the fact that I have medevaced so many women out of combat zones, and they're not getting credit for having served in combat. That's why it's time to repeal this policy.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: In January 2013, once and for all, the military aligned its policy with the realities on the ground.

- Today, General Dempsey and I are pleased to announce that we are eliminating the direct ground combat exclusion rule for women. And we are moving forward with a plan to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.

- Women have been involved in war since the beginning of this nation. And we're still trying to get society to just accept that women have the same calling to securing our nation as men. It is no different.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The United States has fought in five major wars since World War II. And each successive conflict has altered more than simply the face of battle. They have fundamentally redefined what war is and who our warriors are.

- The percentage of women joining the military today is growing. And the military is, in many ways, a microcosm of our society.

You know, you look at the women who are breaking the glass ceiling and are CEOs in big companies. That's always going to be a very small percentage of women. But women joining the military, they're your neighbors, your family members, your friends next door.

- When we open up opportunities and we change the landscape, the dynamics of an organization can improve. It's just amazing.

GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: But opening up the combat positions as a way to allow women to compete for increasing responsibility and rank over time is really why this was such an important decision.

- I have been a very strong advocate of women serving and reaching senior positions where they can begin to influence the policy too of who we go to war against and why we go to war. Because no one wants peace more than those who have to fight our country's wars.