Women Veterans on Combat: Mostly Support, but Wariness, Too

Yahoo Contributor Network
FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2012 file photo, female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Ky., in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan. The Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after generations of limits on their service, defense officials said Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
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Female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range on Sept. 18, 2012, while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Ky., in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

The Pentagon on Thursday announced that it is removing its prohibition on women in combat, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying the decision will strengthen the military and reflect the desire of female soldiers to serve in the same roles as men.

"The time has come for our policies to recognize that reality," Panetta said.

A 1994 decision banned women from serving in ground combat units. Women comprise 14 percent of 1.4 million active military service members, according to the Associated Press.

On Thursday, Yahoo News asked female military veterans to react to the decision. In their own words, here are excerpts from perspectives they shared.

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Not all women are qualified for combat; but neither are all men: I began my military service in 1997 as an enlisted member on active duty in the U.S. Army. After my four-year enlistment ended, I joined a reserve component of the Air Force, where I still serve as a senior non-commissioned officer. I have three overseas deployments under my belt (one with the Army, two with the Air Force), and am planning to deploy again this summer.

The subject of women serving in combat has always been a topic of discussion for as long as I have been in the military. My drill sergeants in basic training talked about it, my platoon leaders in the Army got in heated debates over it, and my fellow airmen in my unit talk about it. Ultimately, we are bound by the decisions made by those with much higher rank than any of us.

Personally, I see no problem with women serving in combat if that's what they choose to do, and if they are physically and mentally capable of doing so.

Not all women are qualified for combat service, but neither are all men.

-- Maggie O'Leary

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Women in combat aside, we should choose wisely before enlisting: I disagree with the Pentagon's decision. I'm not in favor of women being put in harm's way, especially if they have children to protect at home.

If women enlist, they then become property of the U.S. government, and there's no negotiating the job they will be trained to do, where they will be placed, or for how long. I have absolutely no doubt in a woman's competency if she so chooses to enlist, knowing she may be put on the front lines to engage in a violent situation alongside her male comrades.

My advice to any woman who desires to enlist into any branch: Carefully consider the all consequences of your decision, combat or not. Groups like the Wounded Warrior Project show, in accurate light, the plight our servicemen and women encounter upon returning home. War today isn't the same; the weapons are often not things one can see, like bombs and bullets are.

I was stateside my whole [enlistment with the U.S. Air Force]. I enlisted, was single, and was trained as a medic during my term in service. I was honorably discharged in 1974. I'm proud to have served my country, and I understand the tugging of a woman's heart to engage in the battle. If you serve, understand you will more than likely be sent overseas, and as long as you understand the risks and then still choose to enlist, I applaud your decision. May God give you the wisdom to make the right decision and keep you safe.

-- CK Conner

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A new frontier for women serving in the armed forces: It was May 31, 1974. I was heading toward St. Louis to be sworn into the U.S. Army. Afterward, by plane and then by bus in Atlanta, other females joined me, and we were driven to Anniston, Ala., to begin basic training at Fort McClellan.

At that time, women were forbidden to enter a combat MOS.

The persistence, motivation, routines and follow-through I have established in my own life, including my close examination of details, are all traits I picked up by learning how to get through the obstacle course, be in Charge of Quarters (CQ), act as a staff duty non-commissioned officer, and being required to maintain physical fitness. Other elements, such as the night march and being trained to handle chemical warfare, taught me to think outside of the box under extreme pressure.

Therefore, I believe now as I did then that equality means taking risks, independent of the gender. In my opinion, the decision made by Pentagon Chief Panetta is long overdue.

-- Pat Garcia

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Women in combat? They already are: Women have been in combat roles for a long time. What is being done now is to recognize a long-accomplished fact. Complaints about this recognition betray the complainers as ill-informed or ungrateful to the women who have already taken the ultimate risk.

I served in the USCG in the 1970s, engaged in Cold War operations against the Soviets and eastern bloc fleets in the North Atlantic. I went to sea on a 210-foot medium endurance cutter engaged in ELT duties in the North Atlantic. The USCG was engaged in direct contact with Soviet and eastern bloc fleets. We boarded and inspected their huge 500- to 600-foot factory-trawler spy ships. The USCG had men and women alike performing all duties.

Soviet ships had women on their crews, too. The Soviet women on the factory-trawler spy ship were assigned to crew a ship with a military mission. We took them seriously. The Soviets have a long history of women in combat. Some of their best snipers in WWII were women.

In the 1970s, the Navy publicly discussed crewing combat ships with women. We thought it was comical to see some Navy types raving on about how women were not able to fulfill this role since we already did it.

-- Caroline Evans

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Women in combat? Yes, with caveats: Are women equally qualified to serve in front-line combat positions in today's military? Can there be women SEALs, female black ops soldiers and women in Special Forces?

In the 21st century of automation and technology, I feel there is a place for women in combat on the front lines, with the caveat that they be specifically trained to protect themselves from both their peers and from the enemy. There are psychological and a physical preparations that need to be considered for the Pentagon's decision to be successful. I feel that the training and qualifications for men and women should be the same. Assignments should be chosen and based on qualifications.

I served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era and the military was a different organization then. Those were volatile times for the service and the country. Women claimed a new position in society and in the military, specifically, going from the Women's Army Corps to coming regular soldiers when the Corps was assimilated into the Army in 1978. Women were often regarded as intruders into a man's world. Fellow soldiers would go out of their way to create hardship in the line of duty. One example, from my experience: While unloading a truck, soldiers would hand down 50- to 70-pound packs to other soldiers. When the receiving soldier was a woman, the unloading solider would throw the pack. Such behavior, while uncalled for and unfair, was commonplace and overlooked.

-- Alaia Leighland

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