Viewpoint: The Department of Defense Took Too Long on Women in Combat

The ten year delay between on-the-ground reality and official policy shows a troubling bureaucracy

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Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images

From left: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey announce lifting the ban on women serving in front line combat roles on Jan. 24, 2013.

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the military would be lifting the policy preventing women from filling billets in units tasked with direct combat. As an Afghanistan veteran, I found myself particularly apathetic to the news—those of us who have served know this is an anti-climactic adjustment that comes so late that it shows a tremendous lag in upper-level decision making. The military used to be at the forefront of progress—the U.S. Armed forces were racially integrated five years before the landmark court decision Brown v Board of Education—but in the last two decades, I wonder if policy is influencing front lines or simply following suit decades later?

(MORE: Banning Women From Combat is Unconstitutional)

A veteran will attest to the 99.5 percent of Americans who have not deployed to combat that bullets and bombs don’t check our bio-data before they pierce our vehicles. Our insurgent enemy never agreed to let the medical helicopters and finance units have clear passage, and only fight the combat arms units on the ground. Rather, our enemy is ingenious and resourceful. Knowing well that going head-to-head with the American infantry is a losing game for pretty much anyone, our enemy instead goes for the jugular of our support system: logistics, food, fuel, supplies, medical attention, and even our care packages. The units charges with these functions are designed to sustain a defensive posture, but in today’s environment, they are forced to operate offensively and in direct combat as a means of survival. These are also units led by and filled with women warriors.

The decision to lift the ban was absolutely the right thing to do, but what concerns me, as a veteran with many loved ones still in the force, is how long it took us to get there. It bothers me that we had to wait more than a decade—beginning from a time when we had women leading units into the invasion of Iraq—to acknowledge the gender-agnostic battlefield with official policy. It bothers me that, only after ten years of war, did we decide that I was mature enough to serve in combat with a homosexual soldier watching my six o’clock. Why did it take us ten years of war for us to realize just how many veterans we were going to have to reintegrate into the workforce, to the point where Wal-Mart—not the U.S. government—is the only institution capable of absorbing us?

(PHOTOS: Been There, Done That: Pentagon Formally Opens Combat to Women)

The institutional problem here is that those charged with shaping military social welfare are rendering themselves moot by affirming or removing policies decades after the operational force has already taken the initiative to do so. We need our government to lead these cultural shifts, not simply follow with paperwork behind the decisions we make on the ground. Especially because those of us in the fight move quickly, it’s in the best interests of our higher authorities to match their decision-making with the nature of the modern military force.

(MORE: Is Washington Overreacting to Zero Dark Thirty?)

Perhaps I’m naïve. Perhaps this is actually the quickest possible pace that our policies can move. But from my perspective, when my soldiers went on patrol, they didn’t get the luxury of bureaucratic insulation; having multiple layers of protection to absorb risk so that the engine continues to idle without abrupt change. But when the lives of those on the line are directly controlled by a bureaucracy, I expect it to move swiftly and aggressively to accommodate the dynamics of the modern battlefield. Ten years of policy memos and focus groups is too slow, especially when the consequences of the decisions of civilian leaders will shape our force for the next decade of security.

So for my sisters in arms who have been fantastic representatives of our nation’s military, I salute you and thank you for your service. For my countrymen who are slowly adapting to the nature of what it means to be an American service member, I welcome you to the fight. Try and keep up.

51 comments
NicoToth
NicoToth

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SpartaofPhoenixAZUSA
SpartaofPhoenixAZUSA

This is all theoretical pony show...Nothing about this move states how it will IMPROVE our current system...

peter204
peter204

In a modern world where women are achieving equality in so many areas, it only seems natural that women are gaining a more critical role in combat.  I am a student studying political deliberation, and I would greatly appreciate productive feedback and discussion on this topic.  I believe that women are capable of serving in direct combat, although I acknowledge the obvious physical disparities between men and women.  However, I think that women can overcome these disparities in other areas and provide detrimental service on the front lines.  For example, in some countries women in the native country may not be comfortable talking to male soldiers, while women soldiers would be able to achieve a greater level of comfort and gain valuable data.  It is obvious that women face great consequences in the occurrence of capture, but women would sign up understanding these dangers.  Please respond with ideas on whether the U.S. is moving in the right direction with its new policy, thanks!

awes0me
awes0me

I'm an OEF and OIF vet with multiple tours to both locations as an Infantryman and I couldn't disagree with you more. 

atpcliff
atpcliff

Currently, more than 26 countries allow women in direct combat, including Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Australia, Norway and Germany.

In addition, Israel, Turkey, Norway, Russia, Poland, India, China, Afghanistan, Korea and Britain have females in Special Ops. The U.S. just opened up Task Force 160, an aviation special ops force, to women.

UnclePhil
UnclePhil

I worry about women being taken prisoner and abused, as seems bound to happen.  One YouTube video of same will be all it takes to further fan the flames of war.  Please stay behind the lines, ladies.  If you do, perhaps we won't have as many lines as we would otherwise. 

rmwgrace
rmwgrace

Now its time that women achieve true equality - and be required to register for Selective Service.  

Kenvilkid
Kenvilkid

I hope that this means that now all women on their 18th birthday will now be required to register with Selective Service. I wonder if all the women who vote for Obama because he told them that the Republicans had a so called "war on women" like it better that they can now actually go to a real war with a real ememy. Obama will now not only give them free birth control but also free bullets for their M16.

ArxFerrum
ArxFerrum

Equality is not some rubber stamp that can be thoughtlessly affixed to an idea to immediately make it of any value. In the case of putting females on the front lines of combat, the value is not only nil, but a dire and dangerous negative.

This is not to say that women are somehow lesser human beings than men, but war is not anything but the single worse scourge of the human condition... with its roots firmly founded in the male-engineered concept that killing is noble, destruction is prerequisite to honor and suffering is a means to respect. I dare submit that a true equality, in this instance, would be to ban males from conflict rather than expose our sisters to such a horrible invention. 

Unfortunately, our world has purposely set aside its moral compass at every opportunity of late and in so doing, pretended that such is a good thing... when, in fact, it is anything but. 

From here, I would hope to see a dramatic reduction in the number of female enlistments and then, laws generated by states that prohibit women from being forced to serve in any future military draft. 

mjhenson9
mjhenson9

Rajiv, it has probably already been said here, I am not taking time to read all the comments. I am an Iraq veteran and retired Army officer, led soldiers in combat, have the medals and the badges, "been there, done that".

Are women just as fine of warriors as men? Without question.

Should the armed forces be fully integrated in all roles without regard to gender or anything for that matter? Absolutely.

Would I have stood next to a woman in combat and killed the enemy with her watching my back? Definitely.

But...

Will women in combat branches be sexually assaulted, harrassed, discriminated against, bullied, and not taken seriously as leaders in combat by SOME members of our armed forces? 100% positively, ALL of those things WILL happen.

Integration has to be done with care and very fine attention. We learned in the heat of OIF and OEF just how capable our women warriors were, but that was not the time to wave your magic wand and call the military integrated.

I hope that now is that time and now that we have all seen just how meaningless the lines of the combat roles are and how much of a positive impact women can have leading troops in battle that the stage is set for a smooth and successful, however late, integration.

There is no reason to spin this positive change in such a negative light. Shoulda, woulda, coulda... whatever. It is happening now, so lets focus on getting it done right.

DouNome
DouNome

It is too soon to say it was too long. It was not too long if it turns out to be a bad idea.


PatriciaBacon
PatriciaBacon

In my opinion, this is a dangerous situation. Women can and will be used in combat if they are ever captured to persuade their male counterparts. This is why women were never allowed in those roles, not to mention the fact that most women are not physically up to par for this. It doesn't matter if they're a size 2 with 0 body fat, if you can't carry an injured 200lb+ man out of harm's way, or hump for weeks at a time with gear weighing more than you do then you're not cut out for the job. We haven't even touched on the mental hardships that are faced out on the front lines and women are emotional no matter how much training they've had it's their nature. I have a feeling this is going to cause more problems that it will eliminate and put troops in more dangerous situations. It's a bad move.

d2sdonger
d2sdonger

If a woman is treated just like a man and has to meet the same physical standards then more power to them. I know some tough women. My problem would be that if I was in a "foxhole" or similar situation I would have problems say.........taking a crap in front of a woman. Im sure feeling is mutual.

mantic.mantix
mantic.mantix

The service currently doesn't treat men and women the same. The only way this will work is if it is treated with equality.. And that just wont happen.
Currenty the fitness standards are different. Women's fitness test is way easier. And women generally get treated better than the men. Also there is the hygene issue. Women spend 3 day in the field while men stay out indefinately.
Women wanted it so now they get it. Enjoy.

d2sdonger
d2sdonger

Why do they keep putting opinion pieces as top stories on google news.