Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last Thursday that the U.S. military is lifting their official ban on women in combat, opening up thousands of combat positions to female soldiers.
The lift will allow women, who currently make up about 15 percent of the overall force, to engage in combat on the front lines and is also expected to open an estimated 230,000 jobs, the Pentagon’s website explains.
The decision overturns a 1994 Department of Defense policy that previously barred women from direct ground combat and from being assigned to units below the brigade level in all branches.
After receiving a letter from Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month, Panetta quickly moved into action in his last few weeks in office by giving military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.
Dempsey’s letter explained that he and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are united in their belief that “The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.”
Dr. Christopher DeRosa of the History and Anthropology Department also believes that the Pentagon’s recent announcement willprove beneficial. “Having a large number of women in the military who are treated as second-class soldiers is a detriment to the health of the whole organization, as well as being, ultimately, against the nation’s values,” DeRosa said.
Sharing their belief, Panetta explained at the announcement that women have increasingly found themselves in the realities of combat over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan and deserve to be recognized for their actions. “They’re serving in a growing number of critical roles on and off the battlefield,” he continued, “They have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission.”
According to the Pentagon’s website, hundreds of thousands of women have deployed into front-of-the-line conflicts. As of last year, more than 800 women were wounded and more than 130 have lost their lives in the wars of the past decade. “It’s clear to all of us that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission of defending the nation,” Panetta said in his announcement.
Proponents have argued that the Pentagon’s previous ban prevented women from advancement, despite their commitments, since many promotions in high-level careers in the military are often based on combat experience.
As the years of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq have blurred traditional notions of combat, battlefronts have become fluid and front lines virtually nonexistent. For the estimated 280,000 women who have been deployed to those two countries since 2001, their drive and determination is unparalleled, the Pentagon’s website explains.
As the Pentagon is working to figure out how it will integrate women into positions previously closed to them, top U.S. defense officials are looking at militaries throughout the world that have already sent women into combat. Many countries such as Australia, Canada, Israel, Denmark, and Germany have been incorporating women into military combat for years, an article from National Geographic explains.
Despite women engaging in combat throughout the world, opponents of women in military combat are arguing that women must be able to demonstrate the strength to carry out the same rigorous actions as their male colleagues. However, Pentagon officials have been repeatedly stressing that there will still be “genderneutral standards” for combat positions. With the threat of roadside bombs looming constantly in Afghanistan, the question is raised as to whether or not a female combat soldier would have the upper-body strength to be able to carry a 200-pound male soldier to safety.
Regardless of criticisms, women have continued to serve a vital role in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, the Army’s website explains. “Women have continually proven that the narrow stereotype, limiting their choice of occupation, was wrong. As women expanded into different roles in the U.S. Army, it was clear that the heart of a warrior was not limited to one gender,” the website describes.
Panetta took a similar stance and reminded Americans in his announcement, “Our purpose is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the best qualified and the most capable service members, regardless of gender and regardless of creed and beliefs.”
He continued, “If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job — and let me be clear, I’m not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job — if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation.”
President Obama commended Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a statement shortly after their announcement by saying, “I congratulate our military, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the rigor that they have brought to this process.”
The President said, “Today, every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love.”
Jeff Hood, Coordinator of Veteran Services, explained that women are just as capable, if not better, at completing many of the same tasks as men in today’s military. “Women have always been an integral part of our armed forces. Allowing women in combat is a just another step in the right direction for equality,” Hood said.
As many hopefuls are questioning if the Pentagon’s recent announcement will give women greater opportunities for advancement, Hood explained that women are advancing entirely on their own and have been making strides for many years. “Allowing women in combat allows the great men and women of our military to work intricately together for America.”
President Paul Gaffney, also a retired Navy Vice Admiral, expressed his support of the decision “as long as it’s voluntary and those women who volunteer meet the same standards as men for the type of combat job involved.”
The President offered a story of personal experience from 1979. “I was the commanding officer of seagoing unit that spent 300 days at sea on the coast of Borneo with two women officers embarked,” he explained. “There were some ships that had women, but very few were on ships that spend much time at sea. It was an experiment that worked perfectly. There wasn’t combat, but it was dangerous and very remote,”Gaffney continued
Regardless of the recent announcement, Gaffney said, “there are many, many great opportunities for women in the Armed Forces; with or without combat.”
However, he explained that he does not believe that U.S. combat operations will be changed as a result of women now being allowed in combat. Historically, “There has been a cultural precedent for combat being a male-dominated domain,” DeRosa explained. On the other hand, as popular culture continues to flood our minds with fictional fighting women, it seems we have “culturally prepared ourselves, over time, to accept the logical outcomes of our political belief in equality,” he said. Professor Taylor of the Communication Department and Athletics Professor in Residence explained that it will be interesting to see if whether recent policy changes will also impact physical training. However, he said, “There is no distinguished difference in the sacrifice it takes to defend our country.”
While many students consider enlisting in one of our military’s branches sometime during their college career, Taylor stressed that teaching students differently in terms of gender roles will be key. In an effort to bridge today’s gender stereotypes, female students must learn to be more assertive in class, in leadership roles, and in doing more traditional male things, Taylor explained. Dr. Swanson of the Communication Department and Chair of the Philosophy, Religion, and Interdisciplinary Perspectives Department explained, “It has been a long time coming for women in combat. Women have earned it by demonstrating so powerfully their capabilities in the past decade.”
In some cases, Swanson explained, women are often better at particular tasks than men because of women’s proclivity in dealing with the local populations, most specifically women and children. “Women in combat will prove an integral part in engaging with the local culture,” Swanson said.
He also explained that attitudes have remarkably changed in recent years towards more open-minded thinking and with that, more women have been enlisting in recent years. “Women have a different role in today’s society than they have ever had before and this will undoubtedly signal a change in culture and traditional women’s roles.” Swanson said. Shelby Sopkin, a senior and Communications major, explained that she believes women should be just as physically qualified as men when engaging in combat. “Women should have the freedom of choice as to whether or not they want to be on the front line, but they still need to have the same necessary qualifications,” she said.
Some front of the line combat military roles may open to women as soon as this year. However, assessments of special operations forces, including Navy SEALS and the Army’s Delta Force, may take even longer. The next governmental step will be on May 15, when Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps leaders are required to submit their implementation plans to the Secretary of Defense.
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