As a female veteran I am often asked, “Do you think women should serve in combat?”. What is my answer? Yes, women should serve. One of the biggest regrets I have is that my gender kept me from fully serving alongside my brothers in arms. I know what you’ll say, because it’s what everyone says: your support as a medic was just as valuable. But that doesn’t lessen the guilt. It’s difficult to explain why this ban being lifted makes sense, and why it feels like an injustice being rectified. I will never know the full value of my training, but future generations of women will have that chance.
Social media exploded with the recent announcement. Arguments why women shouldn’t serve in combat range include; “They’ll be taken prisoner of war and raped.” ,“Women can’t physically do the job.”, and “We can’t handle our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters dying in combat.”. I won’t deny these fears, except to say they are being addressed. In my research it became clear that of all the services, the Army and Marine Corps have the most changes to make, changes they’re making with integrity and professionalism typical of the military. Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage are the values of the Army. I can speak to the Army’s integrity knowing the other services are just as dedicated to making this transition smoothly, by embodying these values.
So let’s address the fears. Rape seems to be the most often mentioned. During the current wars, two women were taken as POWs, but neither were raped. Statistically it is more likely a female soldier will be raped by a fellow soldier, at a rate that mirrors civilian numbers. I was sexually assaulted and harassed while serving, but I can personally attest that the Army is not full of rapists and that serving in combat will not lead to more victimization. Things have changed for women serving today. They have resources dedicated to their safety, and serve with leaders aware and active in addressing the unique issues of women. The ban being lifted enhances this dedication to addressing these issues. I trained fellow soldiers in these policies, I saw first hand the outrage many felt against the few who tarnished the integrity of the uniform. You can’t logically accuse an entire service by the actions of a few, or believe that women being allowed in combat will change their level of safety or awareness. It’s an ongoing battle in or out of uniform, a battle with allies in leadership.
The next fear is that women will be unable to do the job and will put others in danger. I know men who can’t perform the duties assigned them, so gender is not the issue here. It is about being able to do your job. The Army is addressing this fear by assessing the physical requirements for each MOS. The stance is if you can do the job, you should be allowed to do it. As Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray Chandler stated recently, the Army wants the best athletes on the front lines regardless of gender. There is no denying the physical differences between genders just as there is no denying the physical differences between all men. Each individual Soldier – male or female — should be allowed to prove their abilities by proving their capabilities by standardized the qualifications, which is happening. In fact, it was already happening. The Army opened many positions in combat arms units prior to the ban being lifted. Women are currently serving in Afghanistan in Special Forces units, receiving the same training, doing virtually the same job as their male counterparts. It’s working…it’s been working.
The last fear is that as a nation we aren’t prepared to grieve our women dying in combat. This implies to me that we’re ignorant of the 150 women who’ve died in combat to date. One of those women was 1st Lt. Ashley White Stumpf who died in 2011 while serving in Afghanistan with an Army Ranger unit. Her mother said her daughter believed that if she couldn’t keep up with the men then she had no business being there, so she worked hard to earn her place. She died serving her country alongside two men. Why would we claim outrage over women dying in combat but not our men? If we believe as a nation that it is any easier to send our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons to war, we have no concept of war. We have been a nation at war for over a decade. Any soldier, regardless of gender, understands that service to our country comes at a price, a price that may include death.
For me, this national discussion boils down to something my platoon sergeant said about me when another sergeant said he didn’t want a female medic to support his mission. “I don’t have male and female medics,” my platoon sergeant said,“I have soldier medics and you’ll get my best one.” He sent me.