Want an easy way to totally tick off men? Just announce that the United States military will allow women into combat units. The comments on this news story were hysterical — o-o-o-o-h, the little ladies will be whining about breaking fingernails, they are gossipy back-biting bitches, they will expect to be taken care of and file sexual harassment charges if they aren’t treated j-u-u-u-st right, no woman could carry a 220-pound Marine off the battlefield, yadda, yadda, yadda. Oh, don’t forget all the bad jokes about PMS.
At stake is not the right to wedge a machine gun in their crotches and mow down enemy soldiers like a distaff Willis or Stallone. At stake is promotion, the opportunity for women to rise to the highest levels of rank in the military. Having been assigned to a combat unit even without actual combat experience is a requirement for the highest ranks. No woman could rise to the Joint Chiefs of Staff because no woman had the necessary credentials.
Tomorrow’s announcement from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will change all that. The last institutionalized secular glass ceiling will be broken, but not immediately. Women will not be instantly assigned to the front lines in Afghanistan thirty seconds after the announcement.
First of all, the doors are being opened for assignment to small ground combat units, not massive invasion forces. We already have had women in those forces, in supply trucks and combat helicopters. And we’ve had women wounded, killed and captured in combat. As Rep. Tammy Duckworth (Dem. Illinois) said today, “Yeah, right, I lost my legs in a barroom brawl….” They will be allowed to serve in the kind of small units made famous in a New York Times front page photo a few years ago of a soldier who rolled out of his cot when an attack began, grabbed his gun, helmet and flak jacket and manned the barricade in his pink “I Luv NY” boxers.
But first, in typical military fashion, the process of integrating women into combat units will be studied and analyzed and the military has until January of 2016 to file requests for exemptions for any positions the brass thinks women should not have. Yup, this whole thing could be for nothing, if the brass decides to bar women from the very kinds of jobs that would lead to higher ranks.
But first, it’s by volunteer only and the women who do volunteer will have to pass the same tests that men do. Some jobs may open this year, but don’t expect to see any female SEALS anytime soon.
This is one of those situations like openly gay and lesbian military personnel where we could learn a lot from other countries, in this case, the Israelis. Israeli women are required to serve in the military just as men are. Translation: Israeli women are drafted.
The Joint Chiefs must report to Secretary Panetta by May 15 with their initial implementation plans. The Pentagon announced last year that 14,500 combat positions would be made available to women, mostly in the Army, but the new action could open as many as 230,000 positions in Army and Marine infantry units. Women currently comprise 14% of the military’s 1.4 million personnel.
The news was met with cheers from the Service Women’s Action Network. “This is a tremendous victory for equality and justice in our military,” said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of SWAN and former Marine Corps Captain. “Women’s service in Iraq and Afghanistan set the stage for this – the policy on the books simply did not reflect the reality of women’s service. Our recent lawsuit with the ACLU helped to put pressure on the Pentagon to make this sea change – and it’s about time. This will have a positive effect on recruitment and retention efforts. If women feel they can advance and achieve in our military, we are more likely to attract the best and brightest. Today’s announcement is a major win in the movement for equality and is another step towards ending sex discrimination in the military. It is important to note that it was the Joint Chiefs that recommended this change to Secretary Panetta. The boots on the ground have spoken.”
More than a quarter million women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the Combat Exclusion Policy barred them from being credited with many of the jobs they did.
From SWAN’s website: “SWAN is a national nonpartisan civil rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN’s mission is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without discrimination, harassment or assault; and to reform veterans’ services to ensure high quality health care and benefits for women veterans and their families. You can follow Service Women’s Action Network on Twitter at http://twitter.com/servicewomen, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/servicewomen.
In one of those odd clashes of news stories, there was also a report today about the military’s response to the high number of sexual assaults in our services. Maybe when more women are combat trained, the number of predators in need of medics will increase.