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Has time come for women in combat roles?


Politicians often speak of “an idea whose time has come,” and so it was with the Pentagon decision last week to lift the 1994 Defense Department restriction on women in direct combat roles.
When you have a granddaughter who is a sophomore in high school, women in combat raises fears.
I am not suggesting that women can’t hold their own in difficult situations. Over the years I have known some women who could make a Marine drill instructor cry in pain.
Several female editors I have worked with probably violated the Geneva Convention without blinking.
A few women in the military I have encountered could best be compared to a Predator missile. In a brawl, I want them on my side.
The ban on women in combat roles rule probably disappeared somewhat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where zones of combat and zones of safety are not clearly delineated. Women in military police units found themselves involved in firefights just as any infantry unit.
More than 200,000 women have served in combat zones since the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, with 152 killed in action and an additional 800 wounded, in those two wars.
Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in close-combat positions, largely in infantry and armored units, as one of his last acts as secretary of defense. The change won’t automatically open up all military jobs for women, but expands opportunities for women to advance their military careers.
If there is a cause for the acceptability of women in combat, it is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there were no front lines, no traditional safe havens while fighting with insurgents and there were no noncombat free zones.The insurgents made no distinction between regular riflemen and female soldiers along to interrogate Iraqi and Afghan women. The Pentagon’s distinction between combat and noncombat disappeared quickly in this type warfare.
Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot, may be a poster woman for the change. Now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois, she lost both legs flying combat missions in Iraq in 2004.
The immediate impact of Panetta’s order opens up 230,000 positions women have been excluded from, most of them in the combat where service has been considered a necessity for promotion in the senior ranks. All military jobs are now open to women unless the services petition that certain billets be closed to them.
About 14 percent of the U.S. military is female. Recruiters say the right to train under dirty and exhausting conditions to place oneself in danger to defend your country should be open to all who can qualify.
With men and women differing from each other in peace, it should come as no surprise that they’ll likely differ in war.
While the average woman doesn’t have the same upper-body strength as the average man, tests conducted by the military services from 1970 to the late 1990s, indicated most of the physiological differences between men and women are subject to change through proper conditioning programs.
The Pentagon’s challenge is to accommodate the rule changes without reducing the military’s readiness and combat ability.
Fathers and grandfathers must keep in mind that we have an all-volunteer military. The draft was discontinued in 1973.
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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.