Women in Combat Units = the Evolution of our Military
I wrote my first post on women in combat back in November of 2011. I had no website then, so it wasn’t published until this past March.
Why did I write the piece?
I’ve served alongside female Soldiers for the past twenty years. My first exposure to blatant sexism in the military was when I was assigned to the 82d Military Police Company as a First Lieutenant. The direct support platoons of that company (those platoons that directly support Infantry Brigades) had just been gender-integrated. This was 1999, mind you. About two years later a female officer was finally placed into that unit. So, yes, believe it or not, thirteen short years ago we acknowledged that a woman could serve in a Military Police unit.
What I always found insulting as a young officer was when the Army made Soldiers attend equal opportunity classes. So with one breath the Army was preaching equal opportunity and in another breath practicing discrimination based on gender. Back then we used to say we were “all green” because of our green camouflaged uniforms. This was a lie and we all knew it.
As a young officer I never directly worked for nor had a peer that was a woman. Sure I had “token” female Soldiers in my platoon but no female leaders within my unit. I was on the periphery of this issue with no real stake or educated viewpoint. So I went about my merry uninformed way. This all changed when I arrived to Germany as a new Captain.
I became the logistics officer for a Military Police Battalion. The Battalion’s executive officer, Major Gillian Boice (my boss), the logistics non commission officer, Sergeant First Class Cheryl Wilson (my right hand “man”), and my section’s Solders were all women. I was surrounded by female Soldiers!
I gained true perspective from this experience and grew to value the dynamics a woman brought to an organization. I quickly learned that women were my equal and in some cases better, as a Soldier. I also experienced war and witnessed first-hand women serving in combat. I was evolving as a Soldier, leader, and person.
Two years later I assumed command of the 127th Military Police Company. The company was over 20% women and I had female leaders in the unit. As the boss I didn’t worry about gender, race, religion, etc. I wanted talented people. You perform or you get out of the way for someone that does. Hence the Boris the Bear story from my last post. I owed it to those Soldiers–America’s sons and daughters–the best qualified leader I could find to lead them into harm’s way.
That is still my philosophy—best qualified. I believe that our Military should leverage the very best leadership we have within our ranks.
While deployed to Baghdad, my company fought through complex ambushes, was blown up by explosive devices, defended attacks on Iraqi Police Stations, rebuilt those stations, supported and trained the Iraqi Police all while being shot at on a daily basis. Female Soldiers were integrated throughout the unit in every capacity. Women were placed throughout the battlefield.
I found it incredibly ironic that women weren’t allowed in combat unit but were engaged in combat on a daily basis. I began to feel that this is an insult to all service members that serve. Continuing to discriminate within our uniformed ranks is a disgrace and an embarrassment. We dishonor those 144 women who have made the ultimate sacrifice and the 868 injured in Iraq and Afghanistan in the defense of our nation.
Since the Gulf War (and maybe earlier) women have been engaged in direct combat with the unit. But, you see, when nearly 20% of your manpower comes with limits the big military machine doesn’t work like it should. Army leaders realized a long time ago that “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule” from 1994 was untenable. This rule excluded women from being assigned to units involved in ground combat that could involve hostile fire and physical contact “well forward on the battlefield.”
I love that quote “well forward of the battlefield.” I have visions of Patton steamrolling across France in a race with Montgomery to see who enters Germany first.
So, how has it happened that women have been engaged in daily fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan on this non-linear battlefield? No, the military didn’t violate the rule. We found a loophole. Instead of “assigning” women to combat units, we “attached” them. Assigned is a permanent relationship. Attached is temporary.
Back to my original question. Why did I write my first piece on women in combat?
The battlefield and enemy evolve. We as a military and nation must evolve as well. I wrote the piece because my opinion is current, relevant and from what I’ve seen with my own eyes. Apparently the military leadership feels the same way. We just need Congress to catch up.
We as a military are adapting to combat the evolving worldwide threat. Society now must evolve with us. I’ll put this in layman’s terms for some folks. Sexists, bigots, and chauvinistic pigs–this is going to happen. It is time for you to come out of your narrow world and into reality. Women aren’t second class citizens or service members.
I recommend that you check out the other posts in this series if you haven’t already.
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