Full Participation for Our Women at Arms

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Did you know that, not taking into account the recent announced troop increase in Afghanistan, some 220,000 women have engaged in combat operations* in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I had no idea that so many of our women in uniform had actually seen combat.

And while I knew that women in our military are still barred from performing certain duties or from certain assignments, I didn’t know that a whopping twenty-five percent of military jobs are not open to women, especially those jobs that lead to higher command assignments.

These and other eye-opening facts and statistics about women serving in our armed forces can be gleaned from a fascinating article written by Donna McAleer and Erin Solaro in a recent issue of the Washington Post.

McAleer is a West Point graduate and former Army officer and the author of the forthcoming book “Porcelain on Steel: Women of West Point’s Long Gray Line.” Solaro is the author of “Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know About Women in the Military,” a book she wrote based on her research during embedded tours with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The authors lament the fact that “while U.S. women are fighting on all fronts of the war on terrorism and are regularly engaged in combat operations, there are still barriers to their work and promotion.”

As I have done in a previous post, they cite the example of women serving aboard submarines, where Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, are close to finalizing plans for such integration as early as 2011.

When I wrote on this issue, several readers vigorously objected to the presence of Navy women aboard submarines for various reasons.

The authors address some of these concerns as follows:

… [W]e are likely to hear much chatter soon about sex on submarines and alternate use of limited bathroom and berthing space on notoriously cramped vessels. Common sense and courtesy should go a long way toward resolving such issues. And why should anyone object that those are unreasonable expectations of sailors? No one who cannot deal in a civilized manner with female comrades-in-arms and shipmates needs access to a rifle, much less torpedoes or nuclear weapons.

As to servicemen and servicewomen serving together in new roles and situations:

In the past eight years, more than 2 million U.S. servicemen and servicewomen have served together in situations and for durations that have never existed in previous conflicts. Whatever issues remain to be resolved, the feared “disasters” did not materialize. There have been no epidemics of rape, no waves of “get me out of here” pregnancies, no orgies and no combat failures. In short, our men and women in uniform have behaved as military professionals.

McAleer and Solaro make a powerful argument for women serving equally and fully alongside their male brethren, to be treated as sisters-in-arms and for Congress to drop all restrictions against women in uniform. They also argue for ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay and lesbian troops from the services.

As for the men within the ranks who disapprove of such rights, their message is:

The man who hurts or disrespects our sisters-in-arms, excuses their rapes and harassers or collaborates with their assailants is not our brother.

*While a 1994 policy has excluded women from assignment to direct, sustained ground combat, according to the Navy Times, “combat roles have become blurred during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which irregular warfare marked by insurgent roadside bombs and a lack of the frontlines evident in traditional warfare have brought women assigned to jobs as corpsmen, military police and other ‘combat enabler’ jobs into harm’s way, much as their combat brethren.”

Also read the New York Times’ “G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier

Image: Courtesy army.mil

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist