Women in combat: progress, of a sort
January 24, 2013 11:55 PM | 2198 views | 4 4 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As one of his last acts as secretary of defense, Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles. Considering that the hue and cry over that prospect — along with the false specter of unisex bathrooms — helped kill the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, the initial public reaction was surprisingly muted.

Perhaps that is because the change has been a long time coming, due to changing social attitudes and the changing nature of modern warfare.

If there is an instant cause for the new acceptability of women in combat, it is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there were no front lines, no traditional safe havens because fighting with guerrilla insurgents could break out anywhere and once a unit moved outside the wire on patrol there were no noncombat free riders.

Once the shooting began, the Pentagon ban on women serving in combat units below the brigade level — about 3,500 troops — began to erode.

The insurgents made no distinction between regular riflemen and intelligence officers, medics, military police and the female soldiers along to interrogate Iraqi and Afghan women. The Pentagon distinction between combat and noncombat became more and more blurred and broke down quite quickly under the exigencies of this new kind of warfare.

If there is a poster woman for this change it is Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot and now a member of Congress, who lost both legs flying combat missions in Iraq in 2004. More than 280,000 women have served in combat zones since 9/11, and 152 have died in the course of that service.

The immediate effect of the order is to open up 230,000 positions women are now excluded from, most of them in the combat arms where service has been considered a prerequisite for promotion to the senior ranks.

The Pentagon is studying whether women should be excluded from elite and demanding units like the SEALs, Delta Force and other special ops units. Anecdotally, the feeling among top-flight frontline units is that the women will be accepted if they can do handle the physical aspects of the training without special accommodations of any kind. Indeed, that should be a key consideration for all front-line service, not just for special ops.

Even so, we’re talking about a relatively small fraction of the services. About 14 percent of the military is female. But the opportunity to train under dirty, onerous and exhausting conditions to place oneself in danger to defend one’s country should be open to all who can qualify.

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face reality
January 26, 2013
People need to be realistic about women in combat. Women are built differently from men, lack the muscular structure, and are wired differently emotionally. This is just another far-left try to gain feminist supporters. I doubt seriously if any woman, having been in the midst of battle, would care to repeat the experience, especially as a career choice.
Old Soldier
January 25, 2013
Women will quickly learn that active, close combat with an armed and aggressive enemy is an over rated experience. That sort of duty isn't sought after by sane people. It's done by scared men who'd rather be some place else, but did their duty anyway. May God watch over all of them.
West Cobb Farmer
January 26, 2013

Over the last couple of days I've listened to interviews with women who are celebrating the fact that they're no longer excluded from the glamorous and romantic role of front line combatant. I concur with you "Old Soldier"... May God watch over all of them.
Samuel Adams
January 25, 2013
Women currently serve and have for decades, with special forces units -- in support roles (truck mechanics, etc).

There are other reasons for opening this can of worms, however, none of which have been explored beyond the surface. For one, the door has now been opened for the required registration of our young ladies for the selective service, or draft, per a Supreme Court ruling decades ago. Watch for this controversy. This might backfire on the Obama administrations yet.
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