Women in combat

The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and the head of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, recently signed an order to allow women to serve in combat.  Each branch of the services will now develop a timetable and guidelines for implementation.  This move will allow for official recognition of roles women are already playing.

I posted a pithy little sentence about this from Winning Progressive on my Facebook page only to set off a sometimes not completely coherent discussion among some who oppose the entire idea.  What I posted was

“Now that women can serve in combat that leaves the neo-cons as the only group that apparently can’t serve in war.” – LOLGOP

When I put the comment on Facebook, I was more interested in the neo-cons not serving than in the decision about women.  But the discussion ended up centering around women and combat.  (Sometimes I think friends on the right don’t have much sense of humor.)  Their arguments against were essentially the same ones that Kathleen Parker made in her column in the Washington Post.

The two most popular arguments for inclusion of women in combat would be valid if only they weren’t incorrect. They are: (1) Only qualified women will be included in combat units; (2) We have a volunteer military and, therefore, only those who want to serve in combat will.

Parker worries about the lowering of physical standards, she call it “gender norming” and the fact that women will now have to register for selective service so we may not have a volunteer army at some point.  Parker also seems to think that women would be able to choose whether to be in combat but men would not which would result in the kind of inequality allowing women in combat is supposed to correct.  It is my understanding that both men and women currently make some choices about what job they want after basic training and there are qualifying tests for those jobs.  But right now, women just can’t choose the jobs that have a combat designation.

So how did the decision happen in the first place?  Here is how CNN reported the story.

For Gen. Martin Dempsey, Thursday’s move to open combat units in the U.S. military to women had its roots nearly a decade ago, on the streets of Baghdad.

Dempsey took command of the Army’s 1st Armored Division in June 2003, when Iraqi insurgents were starting to target American troops with sniper fire, grenades and roadside bombs. As he prepared for a trip outside his headquarters, he took a moment to introduce himself to the crew of his Humvee.

“I slapped the turret gunner on the leg and I said, ‘Who are you?’ And she leaned down and said, I’m Amanda.’ And I said, ‘Ah, OK,’ ” Dempsey told reporters at the Pentagon.

“So, female turret-gunner protecting division commander. It’s from that point on that I realized something had changed, and it was time to do something about it.”

Thursday, Dempsey — now chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff — sat alongside Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as both men signed a directive that will open front-line posts to the roughly 200,000 women now serving in the active-duty military.

Panetta said the move is a bow to reality on the battlefield, where women in what are technically non-combat units already find themselves fighting alongside their male comrades.

I think that Parker and other opponents envision battlefields with opposing armies lined up to face each other.  Don’t think this happens any more.

Once we heard similar arguments opposing women in the police force.  I once had a high ranking Virginia State Trooper tell me that women were generally too short to meet what was then a height requirement (I think it was 5’9″ or 5’10”) so they couldn’t be troopers.  Why did they have a height requirement?  So they could fire over their vehicles.  When, I asked, was the last time you fired over your vehicle?  Never have, he said.

There will be a lot of fuss over physical standards and what they really need to be.  And sometimes they will be like the height requirement for Virgina troopers – just tradition.  In the end, women will serve in combat as they do now only they will get credit.  And yes, maybe women will have to register for Selective Service, but maybe we can turn that into a national service requirement for everyone to give a couple of years helping the country in some way.

With this move, we join our allies.

Several U.S. allies, including NATO members France, Canada and Germany, allow women to serve in combat posts. Earlier this month, the U.S. Army opened the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to women, and it has begun recruiting female pilots and crew chiefs. The Navy put its first female officers on submarines in the past year, and certain female ground troops have been attached to combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Change is hard, but we have until January 2016 to see what the actual changes will be.  See what you started, Amanda!

Illustration from the Denver Post.