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This a story of a brave woman who did not wait on the possibility of women being in the Selective Service. She was a woman of great determination, courage, victory…and deceit. Deceit? How can this be? Some of you may know her as Deborah Sampson and others may know her as Robert Shirtliffe. While there are several stories of courageous women who have paved the way for women in the military today, I have found this piece of American History to be very peculiar, but also an inspirational.

Deborah Sampson was born on December 1, 1760 and grew up on the East Coast near Plymouth, Massachusetts. Her background is relevant and relatable to many of us today. She grew up in poverty and like most of us, Deborah was not a stranger to hardship and struggle. I believe that her upbringing aroused a determination within her to win and to overcome. Times were very difficult for her family. Deborah and her siblings were removed from their parents’ home and each of her siblings were separated from one another. Deborah was placed in the care of a farmer and his wife who provided her with the much need necessities as a young girl. Growing up on a farm, she had a craving for knowledge and education. She would seize every opportunity to read and advance in her private studies.

Further, as time passed in the late 1700’s, the onset of the American Revolutionary War had awakened a zeal in Deborah to fight for her country’s cause. She wanted to make an impact by joining the Army, but she knew that women were not allowed in the military. You would think that she would have given up, but no! Deborah did not quit…instead, she devised a strategy that would cause her to be the legendary “Secret Soldier”. Have you ever set out to do something that you knew people would think that you have “lost your mind”? I am certain that Deborah Sampson had second thoughts and doubts, but that did not hamper her from moving out on a very dangerous mission.

Now here’s where the deceit comes in to play. The mission may not have seemed so farfetched to us today, but I would say that it was “different” to say the least. Deborah had decided to disguise herself as a man! In 1778, she enlisted in the Army as Robert Shirtliffe and served for three years unapologetically…not a soul was suspicious of her! This courageous soldier fought in the war, was wounded twice and treated. Still. No. Suspcions. After a while, Deborah had become very ill and had to be hospitalized. Would she escape the situation unsuspected by those that were caring for her? As the doctor went to untighten a bandage over her breast, he was ASTONISHED by his discovery. Robert Shirtliffe was a woman! The doctor decided to keep his discovery a secret, but for how long? After “Robert’s” health was restored, the doctor reached out to his or rather Deborah’s commanding officer. Together, they decided that Robert should hand-carry a note to General George Washington. The commanding officer informed Deborah of these orders, but deep within, she know that her fate was at stake. General Washington, prior to his Presidency, decided to discharge her, but not without a payment honoring her service in the military.

Meanwhile, after Deborah’s discharge from the Army, she married Benjamin Garret. She was later invited to Capitol Hill where President George Washington granted her pensions and lands as a repayment for her service to the country. Deborah Sampson’s exemplary acts of bravery aided in to paving the way for women who would later serve in the military. Undoubtedly, Military Women have sacrificially contributed to the strengthening of US forces all over the world. Today, there are women with the same zeal and courage that Deborah Sampson had. These are the Military Women that are not afraid to break barriers to ensure recognition and honor is bestowed upon their fellow Sisters in Arms for their contributions in their respective branches of service. Currently, women are being recruited for combat positions…and now, for the Selective Service! Women have gone through great lengths to be in the fore of Military Leadership today. Remember, you are unstoppable! You will accomplish great things! You will be legendary! How does Deborah Sampson’s story relatable to your life?

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