Friday, January 25, 2013

Women In Combat Positions - Good Or Bad?

My post today will upset some, make others happy and make still others just think about the issue.  It's about Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement yesterday that women will no longer be excluded from combat units in the military. It's a touchy subject that people will disagree on for years to come.  But it had to be addressed eventually.

During the last two years of World War 1, beginning in 1917, American women were allowed to join the regular military and serve as nurses and support staff.  33,000 joined and over 400 died in the line of duty.

During World War II, more than 400,000 women served at home and abroad as mechanics, ambulance drives, pilots, administrators, nurses, and in other non-combat roles. Eighty-eight women were captured and held as POWs (prisoners of war).

In 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act granting women permanent status in the military subject to military authority and regulations and entitled to veterans benefits.

Women stayed mostly in nursing and support roles for the next 40+ years although they were not prevented from being deployed to hostile areas.  Women serving as nurses in Korea were not stationed on the front lines but those lines changed at times, putting them in harm's way.

In 1991, Congress authorizes women to fly combat missions and in 1993 they were allowed to serve on combat ships.  in 1998, for the first time, women fighter pilots flew combat missions off of aircraft carriers in Operation Desert Fox, Iraq.  And in 2000, Captain Kathleen McGrath became the first woman to command a U.S. Navy warship assigned to the Persian Gulf.

In the years since, women have been serving in combat areas and many have already served in combat situations.  It was only a matter of time.

I give you the history of women in the military because it shows their roles throughout the history of the United States military in general.  As for the Defense Secretary's decision - I must say I can't find a reason to disagree with it.  I have listened to the arguments against it with an open mind but find that I disagree with them for the most part.  And I'll explain why.

When I got out of the Air Force in 1985 women were serving in more positions previously only held by men, such as Military Police.  When I started my career with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1986, at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lompoc, California, we had women working in the institution but they were only in support roles, i.e., secretaries, Receiving and Discharge, mail room, etc.  They were prevented from being correctional officers and/or lieutenants in penitentiaries because the job was deemed too dangerous, even though women had been working as correctional officers in state penitentiaries for years.  Women were, however, allowed to be correctional officers and lieutenants in medium level and below federal institutions.  That restriction stayed in place until 1993.  Since 1993 women have been working successfully as correctional officers, lieutenants, captains and even executive staff in federal penitentiaries.

Women have been serving as police officers since 1910, beginning in Los Angeles, California with the appointment of Alice Stebbins Wells, the first woman in the nation to be given full police authority.  In like standard, the first known female firefighter of the United States was a slave from New York named Molly Williams, who was said to be "as good a fire laddie as many of the boys," and fought fires during the early 1800s.  In the 1820s, Marina Betts was a volunteer firefighter in Pittsburgh.  Lillie Hitchcock was made an honorary member of the Knickerbocker Engine Company, No. 5., in San Francisco in 1863, and fought fires for some years after.

Now, I'm not comparing jobs as police and firefighters to combat- particularly since combat soldiers are on duty 24/7 and every area is a hostile area.   However, when you place your life on the line every day as part of your job are you not running the same risk as a soldier - that of dying at any time?

It takes strength and stamina and good physical conditioning to perform effectively as a cop or a firefighter, just as it does to be an effective soldier.  So if women have been successfully performing their duties as police and firefighters (and even correctional officers) for years it stands to reason they can also be effective combat soldiers.  To think anything less, in my opinion, demeans the women successfully performing in all of these positions.

There are those who will say that a male soldier might put himself in jeopardy trying to protect his female counterpart.  But I say any soldier who cares for his buddies in his unit would do the same thing, whether that buddy is male or female.  I don't see the difference.

I'm OK with Mr. Panetta's decision.  I think there are many women who will not only qualify for the positions but who will do very well.  And in this modern world of equality between genders it only makes sense.  I say go for it.  It won't take long to figure out whether it's a good decision or a bad decision.

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