Guest column: Women in Combat Roles
By Michael Isam
St Augustine, FL
The Department of Defense and the Pentagon has announced that women will be allowed to serve in combat roles — not today, or tomorrow, but sometime between now and 2016.
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta directed the military departments to “submit detailed plans by May 15, 2013, for the implementation of this change, and to move ahead expeditiously to integrate women into previously closed positions.” The secretary’s direction is for this process to be complete by Jan. 1, 2016.
According to Department of Defense news release No. 037-13 issued January 24, 2013, “Women have shown great courage and sacrifice on and off the battlefield, contributed in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission and proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles. The Department’s goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender.”
The news release went on to state, “It builds on a February 2012 decision to open more than 14,000 additional positions to women by rescinding the co-location restriction and allowing women to be assigned to select positions in ground combat units at the battalion level.” “Today, women make up approximately 15 percent, or nearly 202,400, of the U.S. military’s 1.4 million active personnel. Over the course of the past decade, more than 280,000 women have deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Veterans in and around St. Johns County were contacted for their reaction.
As expected, the physical strength of men vs. women came to the forefront several times.
“Women are just as able, willing and brave as any male soldier or Marine,” said Vietnam veteran, Peter Guinta. “Their training, leadership, and ability to command also can be equal.”
Guinta expressed some concerns about strength and endurance, though.
“Even the strongest woman is NOT going to be able to shoulder-carry a 200-pound wounded comrade to safety,” Guinta replied. “Why should that casualty not deserve a person next to him who can do so?”
“As long as the requirements remain the same for men and women,” said Dave Hrynda. “I’m OK, so long as they can pass all of the physical qualifications and the mental aspects of their duties, the same as male soldiers.”
Women veterans of Iraq and the Gulf war also offered their opinions.
“It’s clearly evident that there is a difference between men and women, not just in sex but also in strength and mental capacity to endure the things that come with war and being a front line soldier,” said Shaqueen Vanzant, who served two tours in Iraq in the Air Police. “If a women believes that she can go through the same training and endure the obstacles that her male counterparts endure and still handle her own challenges that come with being a women, then I say let her do it.”
Vanzant observed that, over the years, women have surprised many about the things they can accomplish — including themselves
A woman veteran of Gulf War timeframe said, “I think it is about time that women are allowed to hold those positions since a lot of women were, and are, doing it. They do not appear on the rosters because they “were banned from that job because they were female.” The bad guys aren’t going to stop firing just because they see a women there, it hasn’t happened up to now and this declaration isn’t going to change that.”
Another woman veteran said, “There are examples of women who have been in combat throughout history and the result has been overwhelmingly victorious and inspiring. There is a caveat; women will need to have additional training to qualify for such roles to compensate for the differences in upper body strength whereas leg strength is not a problem. Women are equal in intellect, leadership capabilities, and esprit de corps.
One lesser mentioned, but of very large concern, is brought forward by SGM Ray Quinn, FLANG, ret. “Today’s military is plagued with sexual harassment and sexual assault. It has reached epidemic proportions and every branch is trying to get the situation under control. One can do a little research and find overwhelming evidence to support my statements.” Quinn added, “Moving females into close quarter combat units in my opinion will escalate an already embarrassing and degrading situation. Our military must find the answer now.”
Other comments referenced were: “sexual tension,” “a man’s natural capacity to protect women as a gross propensity to forget the prime mission,” “women are a distraction.”
Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr. issued a release stating
“The Florida National Guard supports this historic decision concerning lifting the ban on women in combat specialties.” “Our formations in Florida are combat tested and all Soldiers and Airmen, women and men alike, have served dutifully and with distinction in any task given.
Women serving in the Florida National Guard have already served on the frontlines in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are currently serving in support of operations in Southwest Asia and around the globe. According to additional information supplied by MSgt Thomas Kielbasa of the Public Affairs office of the Florida National Guard, “The number of women in the Florida Army National Guard is 1,503 or 15.1 percent of the total strength.”
Currently there are 12 Military Occupational Specialties in the Florida Army National Guard that are not available to women. These include Infantry, Field Artillery, and Special Forces.
No matter how one looks at it, a Vietnam veteran reminded all of a universal military truth; “Anyone who wants to be an 11 Bravo (Infantry Rifleman) should get their mental state checked.”