Battleland

Women in Combat: Is It Really That Big of a Deal?

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REUTERS / Lance Cpl. Marionne T. Mangrum / U.S. Marine Corps

Marine Lance Cpl. Stephanie Robertson, in Marjah, Afghanistan,in 2010.

The announcement that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the ban on women in direct ground combat has brought out the normal pundits who either support it — or who don’t.

What I have found in the more than 10 years I have been studying military sociology — and the 21 years I experienced in the military first-hand — is that the naysayers have probably never worked with dedicated women who only want a chance to serve their country like their male peers.

I am really getting sick and tired of the same old same old arguments, which were the subject of my Master’s thesis in 2003: most of the arguments are speculative and not based on reality.

Further, the con arguments are based on emotion while the pro camp is based on logic… to wit: “Women can’t do combat infantry,” as opposed to “Military jobs should be based on performance, and those who can meet those standards should be able to participate.” This criterion eliminates any gender bias, and is not calling for the lowering of standards, which should be based on realistic performance measures.

I myself was in a military specialty that had previously been all-male until 1974 when a young enlisted woman named Donna Tobias forcefully and successfully graduated from the Second Class Dive School in Little Creek, Va. She then went on to work at the Harbor Clearance Unit as a fleet diver, and then was an instructor at the submarine ascent training tank in Groton, Conn. She later got out of the Navy, received her Master’s degree in special education, and spent the last 25 years of her life mentoring the less than capable beings of our world. They never forgot her.

Five years later, in 1979, the first woman salvage diver, Ensign Susan Trukken, graduated from the Naval School of Diving and Salvage at the Washington Navy Yard. Two women followed in the next class, me and my dive buddy, Martha Herb, who would become the first woman diver to make admiral.

I can tell you from experience that no one gave us any slack. In fact — and Admiral Martha can confirm this, as well as her husband (who was also in our dive class), and my dive buddy, Lieutenant Vern Armstrong, we were given more harassment as students than the men. And we overcame those obstacles.

Women who choose to start infantry training are going to have a hard time. I predict that many will fail, just like in the military diving community. There will never be the percentage of women in the infantry as there are in the total military population, which stands at around 15%. This percentage of women in the military has been pretty stable since 2000.

No one believes all women can do all the jobs that are required in the military combat arms. That is why in the current all-volunteer force, people are given options… and that is why advocates of women’s increased participation in the military always insist that “those who are willing, and capable and can do the job, should be able to compete for those jobs, and they should be based on those criteria, not gender.”

None of us is calling for reduced standards, calling for your little sisters, aunts, and moms, to be drafted into jobs they cannot perform, and for which they do not qualify? We are just asking that women who want to join the military, and serve their country, be allowed, just like men, to serve to the best of their ability and capacity, in the jobs for which they wish to volunteer.

How simple is that? And why is it such a big deal?

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