Female paratroopers talk about DOD policy change
January 29, 2013
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JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (Jan. 29, 2013) -- The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon E. Panetta, in collaboration with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rescinded the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, which precluded females from holding direct combat positions within the U.S. military.
Rescinding the rule will expand career opportunities for women and provide a larger pool of qualified members to the services.
Hundreds of women with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th infantry Division, recently returned from serving a combat tour in Afghanistan. Among these women is Master Sgt. Araceli Nava, the 4-25's senior brigade career counselor, who remarked on the upcoming increase in combat roles for women.
"We shouldn't overshadow the importance of potential and quality based on gender," she said. "I think everybody would like to take advantage of any opportunity; just kind of push yourself; not only personally but also professionally."
Spc. Brittany McGee, a field artillery surveyor for the 4-25, said she is looking forward to the changes.
"I actually wouldn't mind going to a more combat-based job," McGee said. "I don't feel like a desk job is my kind of thing, and I know a few females who feel the same way as I do."
Sgt. Shawnte L. Rollins, who is also a field artillery surveyor for the 4-25th, said about half of the female Soldiers she knows express interest in combat arms.
Rollins said there should be a selection process for females who want to serve in combat arms roles.
"I think there should be an extensive assessment on the ban being lifted on certain MOSs (military occupational specialties)," Rollins said. "A lot of combat MOSs have a real physical barrier to them. You just want to make sure that, whether it is gender related or not, you have the best Soldiers who can perform and stay alive."
Rollins said her biggest concern is the physical rigors of lifting and carrying weight.
"Infantry units go out on foot patrols for days on end sometimes, so they have to carry the equipment they need to sustain themselves for those days," Rollins said.
Rollins and McGee were both members of the 4-25's Female Engagement Teams, or FET Teams, during their recent deployment to Afghanistan. The FET teams were set up to travel with light infantry units on mounted and foot patrols.
A primary mission of female engagement teams is to connect with local national women in order to promote a sense of trust and to establish communication lines with Afghanistan women.
Sgt. Rollins, who is 5 foot 3 inches tall and 117 pounds, said being a member of the FET team was physically demanding.
"There were times I went out for like five or six days, and I had to carry enough stuff like water and food to last me for those days. Those rucks (military backpacks) got heavy climbing up mountains with all of that weight. It was hard, but you know, I did not want to be a liability, so if I saw guys doing it then I was going to truck-it and do it too," Rollins said. "I wanted to go out and create a good example to show them that there are female Soldiers out there who can keep up."
McGee said she had the same packing list as the male soldiers on the patrols. She is proud of herself for meeting the same standard in combat as her male counterparts.
"I just went out there and did it," McGee said. "I did the same thing they did. I got up in the morning the same time. I was in tower guard. I was in the turret. I carried the same weight.
"It's all about what is in your mind," she said. "Do you have the confidence? Do you have the drive? How bad do you want it? If you want to succeed, you can do anything you put your mind to."
The Department of Defense's goal is to open about 237,000 previously closed positions to women. The plan is to be implemented over the next couple of years, but no later than Jan. 1, 2016.
Each military service will submit its detailed plans for implementation to the Secretary of Defense by May 15, 2013.