'We're already in combat'
January 31, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Until last week, female servicemembers defended the American ideal of equality without experiencing the benefits of all avenues of progression. Now that the Pentagon is rescinding the ban on women in combat units below brigade level and opening combat military occupational specialties to women, servicewomen will now have access to the same opportunities to serve their country as men do.
Throughout the last decade of war, female troops have been "attached" to frontline combat units. War has been a mother of necessity, and these frontline units needed military intelligence, military police, civil affairs teams and more to complete the mission at hand, regardless of the gender of the Soldiers on those teams.
Despite policy, the women on those teams have been in combat.
I was one of those women. During a year in Iraq as part of a Civil Affairs team attached to 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, I spent the deployment attached to infantry companies in Samarra, Balad and Mosul.
I found myself blending in with a platoon of infantrymen during post-curfew foot patrols, pulling air guard from the hatches of Strykers, and experiencing the fear, adrenaline rush and anger that enemy contact incites.
My gender did not present an issue. I did my job. I kept up with fellow Soldiers when we were on the move; I pulled my share of security; I faced the same mortars, small arms fire and rockets; and I ate the same strangely colored hot dogs that we received in marmites.
While at a particularly tiny forward operating base for a month, being the only female attached at the time, I had to share a containerized housing unit with three male Soldiers. All of the males were gentlemen and, for the sake of propriety, we all became pros at getting dressed inside of zipped-up sleep systems. Since we had just spent the previous month living out of our vehicles and sleeping wherever we could find a spot, just the fact that we had a roof over our heads and cots to sleep on made the mixed-gender living situation insignificant.
Since rescinding the ban on women in combat units serves to catch policy up to reality, the transition should be fairly seamless. Opening combat jobs to women may prove to be a more challenging proposition.
Approached with fairness and respect, I think integration will succeed. A dozen countries already allow women in combat arms jobs, including Canada, Australia and Israel. Women in our own military have quietly been proving themselves when pitted against male counterparts. Sgt. Sherri Gallagher beat out male competitors in the 2010 Best Warrior competition, becoming its first female Soldier of the Year. Female Soldiers already compete in unarmed combatives tournaments, matched up with opponents according to weight class, regardless of gender.
If women seeking combat jobs can meet the exact same requirements that men meet, then they should be allowed to hold those jobs. To lower existing standards or to allow for separate, female-specific standards will be a disservice to the military. It will also be a disservice to women; if they can hold the same job as a man by meeting lower standards, then they will never be seen as truly qualified, and will never receive the level of respect that male counterparts receive.
Not every male can hump 100 pounds of gear for miles, or heft 100-plus pound field artillery rounds, but those who can and want to, are allowed to. The same will hopefully now be said of females.
There is a meritocracy at work in our military: if you can complete the training and perform your job to standard or better, you can serve your country and have opportunities to succeed. In this way, the military has served as a great equalizer for many. Careers follow a trajectory based on ability and job performance, and this trajectory will now be available to servicewomen in any job field they choose. Whether or not any choose careers in combat jobs and succeed is up to the individual, and that's how they should be judged -- on their individual merit, and not on their gender.
The military has already proven that race and sexual orientation are irrelevant when it comes to a Soldier's ability to carry out the mission. Now the military will finally have a chance to prove gender is irrelevant as well.