C’mon Ladies! Let’s Get With the Program!

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A female U.S. troop in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

I wrote about a lawsuit being filed on behalf of four female military personnel by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) nearly a month ago.

I also noted that the Marine Corps has opened infantry training to women officers, and yet few women are volunteering for the training. The excuse is that since this is a pilot program, if they make it through they won’t be attached to an infantry unit, so why bother?

I’ll tell you why bother…it’s all about credibility.

There was recently an story about two young Army officers who passed Sapper Leader Training for combat engineers.

Both passed the course and earned the coveted title “SAPPER.” While it will likely open doors for future promotions and positions of leadership, they have no illusions they’ll ever see ground combat themselves, but believe they’re helping pave the way for other female soldiers in the future. “It sets me apart from my peers,” [one] said, “and over time more women will be able to prove themselves.” [The other] is convinced with proper training and personal commitment, women will inevitably see duty in ground combat. “Down the road, we’ll see many more women doing this. We’re gettin’ there.”

Well, let’s get to it.

If, on the one hand, a few women are suing the Department of Defense for the right to enter ground-combat units, then on the other there should be women willing to step up to the plate and volunteer for the training being offered. Be part of the solution!

Many military women advocates, both who have been in the military like me, and those who have not, are arguing for a gender-neutral assignment policy. We are saying that the assignments should be based on qualifications, not gender; that those who can qualify for the job should be able to be assigned to the job.

But if there are no volunteers, what is the point?

We know that not all women will qualify to be in the infantry. The requirements are tough. But I believe there are some women who can qualify, but they need to put themselves out there and try. Many men attrite, so it is no dishonor to try and not make it.

I was a Navy diver. The school was really tough, and even now, after more than 30 years of women being Navy divers, there are still less than 300 overall who have made it, and this is in every type of diving the Navy uses, except for SEAL teams. My ex-husband was a Navy SEAL, and he told me that it was not the rough and tough football players who usually succeeded.

The men who succeeded were the ones who just would not quit. They had the mental capacity to see all the hardships and team-building through to the end. Women need to do the same thing if they expect to enter, and complete, infantry training.

For the Army and the Marine Corps, you not only have to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Yes, I understand that the women filing the lawsuit have all been in either Afghanistan or Iraq, and several received decorations for their service, but they cannot stand alone. They need to convince the many women and men who are watching this unfold with keen interest that there are women who want this opportunity as much as the advocates want to give it to them.

But until there are women who have passed the training, and shown they meet all of the qualifications, whether women can wage ground combat job or not is mere speculation. Whatever happens with the lawsuit will happen.

But until there are qualified women ready to enter combat units if the lawsuit is upheld, then it will all be for naught.

MORE: Same Old Story for Women in Uniform