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17 March 2012

Praise: Women in Combat

The Friday 16 March 2012 Stars and Stripes included an article titled, Female Marines aim to blend in, but be visible enough to set an example.  The title is appropriate.
“We don’t like to be singled out. We’re Marines,” Maj. Jennifer Marino said during a panel discussion Thursday about the role of female Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As women are about to be allowed in units that are explicitly designated as combat units, this will get more attention.
The opportunities for women are changing. Though women are still barred from infantry units, a recent Pentagon decision will open to women more than 14,000 active-duty and reserve jobs that were previously available only to men.
 As early as this summer, a few hundred jobs for company grade officers and staff noncommissioned officers in the Marines will be open to women. Those positions would be in ground combat units like artillery, tanks and combat engineer battalions in military specialties already open to female Marines.
 The first woman to command a combat brigade is being installed today, 17 March 2012.
The California Army National Guard's 40th Combat Aviation Brigade will get its first female commander today.
Col. Laura L. Yaeger will be installed as commander of the unit at an afternoon change of command ceremony at the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.
She replaces Col. Mitchell K. Medigovich, who served as the unit's commander during its recent deployment to Iraq. Medigovich and his soldiers were among the final U.S. troops to leave that country.
It should be no surprise that some people have objections.  Among the Republican presidential contenders, Rick Santorum is the most vocally opposed,
Santorum had to explain past statements that he opposed contraception because it allows consequence-free sex, and that women should not work outside the home. He also said women shouldn't be allowed in combat.
Most Americans support women in combat roles according to a recent Quinnipiac Univeristy poll.
American voters also support 75 - 22 percent allowing women to engage in close ground combat. Support is 70 - 27 percent among men, 79 - 17 percent among women and 67 - 29 percent among voters in military households. All party, age, income, religious and education groups support the measure.
To be fair, aside from Mr. Santorum, most of the GOP presidential contenders have backed off of this issue.
Asked during the February 22 GOP presidential debate in Arizona about their views of women in combat, the candidates by and large played up to those polling numbers, with at least three of them expressing general openness to an expanded role of women on the battlefield.
Predictably slippery, Mitt Romney said that he would “look to the people who are serving in the military to give the best assessment of where women can serve.” Noting the 100-plus women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, he expressed his belief that “women have the capacity to serve in our military in positions of significance and responsibility, as we do throughout our society.”
Newt Gingrich pointed out that in the present environment of “total warfare,” anyone “serving our country in uniform virtually anywhere in the world could be in danger at virtually any minute. A truck driver can get blown up by a bomb as readily as the infantrymen.” He added that “you ought to ask the combat leaders what they think is an appropriate step, as opposed to the social engineers of the Obama Administration.”
Rick Santorum, who had been criticized for earlier suggesting that it may not be appropriate for women to serve alongside men in combat, subtly backpedaled on that opinion, saying that while he still had concerns, “I would defer to at least hearing the recommendations of those involved” in making the decisions about where women serve.
On February 10, during an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Santorum said that “when you have men and women together in combat … men have emotions when you see a woman in harm’s way. I think it’s something that’s natural, that’s very much in our culture to be protective, and that was my concern.” He added that the issue is “is how men would react to seeing women in harm’s way, or potentially being injured or in a vulnerable position, and not being concerned about accomplishing the mission.”
Men react to seeing fellow countrymen in harm's way in exactly the same way, without regard to gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or any of the other human differences that make for political wedge issues.  When you train and fight together, the rest simply doesn't matter.

It isn't that women don't end up in combat.  We had women earning combat medals during World War II, when a cap of no more than two percent of the military being female was established..  A commentary by Colonel Michael Underkofler tells a small part of the history of women in combat.
Every day women in our country put on combat boots and serve in the air, on the ground and on the seas. While we may define and re-define what it means to serve in combat, make no mistake, women have always served in harm's way. The war today clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of all of us and the evolving nature of warfare. We couldn't fight it as well as we have without the contributions of our women warriors.
They already train for combat, even in competitions.

Integration of women into combat units is no more challenging than was integration of Blacks, both of which are more challenging than integration of lesbians and gays.  In each case, the United States is stronger with the contributions of highly talented sailors, soldiers, and airmen without regard to their minority status.  In each case, the United States is stronger because of the diversity that each brings to her or his unit.  The ideals of E Pluribus Unum work.

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