In recognition of Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Maxwell Air Force Base Airmen honored Ms. Sharron Cohen, officially Lt. Sharron Frontiero, for her role in securing benefits and equal pay for military spouses. spouses across the Department of Defense in a ceremony on base May 6, 2022.
Airmen placed steps in front of the 42nd Medical Group, a metaphorical and literal representation of the chronological steps Ms. Cohen took from 1969 to 1973 to chart a path for all female servicemen to receive the same rights that male servicemen automatically received. .
In the 1970s, Cohen sued the Secretary of Defense in Frontiero v. Richardson for deprivation of due process for servicewomen and won her case in the Supreme Court, represented by her lawyers Joe Levin and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
At the time, male servicemen automatically received increased housing allowance and medical benefits for their wives after marriage, while female servicemen had to prove that their husbands depended on them for more than half of their support to receive the same benefits. Lt. Frontiero did not accept the policy as fair and hired legal counsel to secure full benefits for his military spouse.
In recognition of her service, Colonel Eries Mentzer, Commander of the 42nd Air Base Wing, presented Ms. Sharron Cohen with the Commander’s Outstanding Public Service Award.
“Sharron Cohen’s legacy represents what we instill in our Airmen every day – regardless of your salary or position, you can make a difference and improve our Air Force,” Mentzer said. “All Airmen and Guardians deserve the freedom to serve. Command Chief Lee Hoover and I hope these actions highlight the courageous path Lt. Frontiero has courageously taken to secure equal pay and inspire service members today to challenge the status quo in order to breaking down barriers to service so that all Airmen, Custodians and families can grow to their best as part of a fully integrated force.
The event was led by Technical Sgt. Octaevia Hutcherson of the 42nd Medical Group with assistance from Dr. Mehmed Ali, Ms. Alexandra Aldridge and Ms. Roberta Berthelot of Air University Academic Services. Ms. Cohen’s attorney, Mr. Joseph Levin, attended the ceremony virtually and Lt. Gen. Mary F. O’Brien of the Department of Air Force Women’s Initiative Team delivered remarks for the event.
“Sharron’s story illustrates how each of us can play a role in the fight for gender equality,” O’Brien said. “These marble steps that commemorate his virtuous achievements are solid; but to be sure, following these steps is not insurmountable. Her act took personal bravery at a time in our history when she had little support, until she proactively sought it out.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond also offered congratulations on the ceremony.
“We must never forget the daring of Airmen like Lt. Frontiero,” Brown said. “It’s important to remember that you don’t need rank or authority to drive change. Sharron was able to change federal policy as a lieutenant.
“As a young lieutenant, she challenged the status quo of the Department of Defense because she believed that military benefits should not be distributed differently based solely on gender. The Supreme Court ruled in her favor in a case history that has advanced the cause of gender equality,” Raymond said. “Sharon didn’t set out to be a hero, but she proved the power a person can have when they stand up to injustice and say “it’s not right”.
The Frontiero v. Richardson case was the first successful sex discrimination case filed against the federal government and set a precedent for future gender equity cases.
“I’m very proud, honored and grateful to all of you for doing this,” Cohen said. “When I last visited Maxwell two years ago, I was on a panel with eight other women, most of whom served in combat roles. Not only were the grassroots changes over the past 50 years profound, but the changes for women and what they were doing were so enormous. It surprised me that these women had the chance to occupy these positions and that they were protected. That moment made me really proud to be a veteran and the little piece that I contributed with the hard work of Joe Levin and Ruth Ginsburg.
Maxwell welcomes all Airmen, Guardians and families to see the milestones and continue Ms. Cohen’s outstanding legacy of removing barriers to service and accelerating the change needed for better, more inclusive air and space forces.