Department of Defense officials announced on Thursday that they would be making two key adjustments to open up more than 14,000 assignments to women that had previously been unavailable.
The basics: the first change will revoke a 1994 policy prohibiting women from serving in positions that are near combat units. That means women will now be able to serve in roles like as tank mechanics and field artillery radar operators.
The second change is an “exception to policy” instituted by the Department of Defense to allow women to officially be assigned at the battalion level to jobs they already perform but currently at the brigade level or by virtue of being “attached” to a battalion rather than officially assigned. This will open up roughly 1,200 assignments to women.
I watched the live press conference and the tone and tenor of the questions by the press were definitely coming from a “women are equal everywhere else and should be in the military and why are you not announcing the total integration right now?” kind of place. In the journalist’s defense, there was a previous report to DoD by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission which advocated a more comprehensive lifting of the ban, but still.
I find this interesting because as a female in the military I will say that if any further integration into combat roles is to take place, it should take place carefully.
This could be among the largest cultural shifts in military culture and done wrong it could really mess some shit up.
I get that people who aren’t in the service want to showcase the drama of some plucky girl becoming a Navy SEAL despite all odds, but life ‘aint a Demi Moore movie.
I am beyond happy that women who have been doing jobs in theater are now able to claim combat experience just like their male peers. Up to this point they have been unable to be assigned below the brigade level. So folks got around that issue by “attaching” them to battalions, which let them do their jobs but didn’t make it official that they had served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is important for several reasons. First because combat experience is helpful in promotion, especially in the Army and Marine Corps.
Second, because with war the way it is, women who have been in combat situations may need help from the VA and it’s important to have that designation to get the full menu of benefits and treatment one may need.
And finally, because fair is fair and women have been doing certain jobs and this change paves the way for them to finally get credit for it.
But further integration of women into combat roles must be done with careful, thoughtful and well-researched effort. Flash back to the integration of women aviators in the Navy and you’ll find out why. They were all but dumped on the aviation community doorstep and everyone was told to suck it up and get on with it. And that took decades to fix.
Now on the other end of the spectrum are those who say women shouldn’t be allowed in combat because the men will want to protect them or will be adversely affected by a woman being hurt or injured. Now that’s just crazy talk. Can we please stop meandering through 1956 and look around at the modern day military force?
If a guy in combat feels the need to protect the female to his right surpasses his job to seek out and kill the enemy, then he’s the one not fit for combat. I have a son– does that mean if I’m in combat I should give in to the urge to “mother” all the younger men I see injured? No.
As for the PT standards I’m all for stringent and equal requirements. I can say with a tremendous amount of confidence as one that takes regular PT tests with men that our guys could use a little competition. My last PT test I watched a younger man struggle to do 20 push ups while myself and other “weaker” chicks were pushing out 50 with time to spare on the clock. In this case what’s good for the goose really is good for the gander and the overall physical health of our military.
Overall I want this to work but I cringe at the notion that all military women are just champing at the bit to be the first female Green Beret. This issue could so easily turn into just another circus with those of us in uniform being used as poster children for a cause we never knew we signed up for.
So I applaud the DoD and their very cautious approach to this process. They may take heat from women’s groups or the general public but I feel better knowing my future in the military won’t be the result of some knee jerk reaction to civilian standards of gender equality. After all, we are in the military. It’s a different world here and a change of this magnitude deserves the judicious study and service branch input that DoD is asking for.
And as women we have to be okay with the fact that standards exist for a reason and those standards may show there are areas in which many of us (if not all of us) simply aren’t equipped to serve. Yes, I said it. After all the research is done and the standards measured let’s get our heads around the fact that we should do those jobs which we are best suited for; mentally, emotionally, educationally and physically.
For those of us who have raised our right hand and taken that oath, national security does and should trump any individual need every day and twice on Tuesday. The best and most qualified people for the right jobs, end of story.
Not every guy in the military is a SEAL, or combat controller or Special Forces. We are ok with that when it comes to men and we should be ok with that notion when it comes to women. That, my friends is true equality. Or as Secretary Panetta himself said, “We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so.”
In other words, this won’t be a free for all. And as a girl, I’m ok with that.