I submitted this piece to a local newspaper after reading several editorial opinion pieces on why women should not be allowed in combat.
The debate on women in combat rages on, but what most people don’t know is that the battle has been over for some time, which is why the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended changes that will now simply become formally approved. Since Operation Just Cause in Panama in December 1989, when several U.S. Army Military Police (MP) Officers, including Cpt. Linda Bray of the 519th MP Battalion, faced combat when securing Panamanian Defense Forces installations, women have performed brilliantly in battle. Their participation in just Cause was eventually not recognized as combat by the Defense Department because they were not legally allowed to be in combat.
Since that time many women have advanced through the MP ranks in combat support roles, including most notably Gen. Janis Karpinski (Operation Iraqi Freedom), our own (and former colleague of mine) Lt. Col. Jackie Gordon (Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom (2 tours), and Iraqi Freedom, and a Suffolk County public school counselor and Babylon Town Legislator), and Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, who was awarded the Silver Star medal for her exemplary performance during a battle to protect an ambushed convoy just south of Baghdad, Iraq in March, 2005. At that time I was stationed in Baghdad at the 18th MP Brigade headquarters. The brigade was responsible for all detainee and convoy security and I watched the security video of then Specialist Hester in the battle. Her calm, cool and deliberate actions, in the face of a well-armed and superior force of insurgents helped save the lives of the convoy personnel and her comrades.
More than just proving in battle that they are capable, these women and thousands of others endure the same Army training to get where they are. After three mobilizations since 9/11/01, and after three cycles of rigorous pre-deployment training that I went through, I can personally attest that men and women in the Army from all MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) backgrounds train together, in all conditions, including very physically demanding battle simulation lanes training and live fire convoy and defense training.
In the early 1990’s combat exclusions for women were lifted in the Air Force and Navy, allowing women in those services to serve in combat aircraft and on combat warships, respectively. Also, in 1994, rules were changed in the Army to allow women in combat support Military Police units that could serve on the front lines. That, in essence began the test that led to the Joint Chief’s recommendation.
Women in combat are nothing new. Over the past 24+ years they have proven time and again their value and capability to not only make the grade, but also excel on the battlefield, in the air, and on the seas. The only thing causing a stir now is that these accomplishments have not grasped the attention or imagination of the mainstream media or the public at large. But that’s OK. The military women who have faced and will face combat in the defense of their nation don’t really care about all that, their reward comes in knowing and being able to prove they can in battle.