The change is recognitionGovernment opens military combat roles to women
The Pentagon has announced that it will lift the ban on women serving in combat roles, according to the Associated Press. United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the announcement in a press conference Thursday.
Women had previously been barred from serving in infantry, armor and special operations units. The new recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units, the Associated Press reported.
Barb Duder, former commander of the American Legion Post 29 in Washington, said that women have been serving on the front lines, and in dangerous places, for many years. The major change is that now they are being recognized for it.
“Women have been serving in combat, especially during ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ and ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’” she said.
In 2003, a unit of 20 women served alongside frontline combat units in Iraq but were not given combat roles. These women became known as “Team Lioness.” Duder said that female soldiers played an integral role in Iraq because the male soldiers were not allowed to search Iraqi women for weapons.
“They (the female soldiers) were a calming presence for women and children,” she said. “They were attached to the combat units. In 2009, the U.S. Marine Corps began training female engagement teams. These were also attached to the combat units doing the exact same job, but they received no combat ribbons or awards.”
Duder said that women serving in combat is nothing new. She said between 400 and 1,300 women disguised themselves as men so they could fight during the Civil War. Some of them were even given pensions for their services after the war.
“All they have done by cutting women out of these roles is to stop recognition of women in this roles,” she said.
Duder said women make up 14 percent of active-duty military personnel. The 1994 combat exclusion policy has barred them from serving in 238,000 jobs.
Duder supports the change in policy, but said she expects pushback on the issue.
“Any woman who has served in the military has heard the same thing: ‘You’re not strong enough to drag a 200-pound man off the battlefield,’” she said. “No, not every woman is cut out to be a Green Beret or a Navy Seal.”
Duder added that not every male soldier is cut out to be a Green Beret or Navy Seal, either.
“I knew men who I had an inch and 20 pounds on,” she said. “They couldn’t carry me but I could carry them.”
Duder hopes that the public’s changing acceptance of women in the military will translate into a better work environment for them. She said many enlisted women face harassment and even sexual assault.
In 2011, Duder said there were 3,192 military sexual assaults reported. She said the Department of Defense suspects that only 13 percent of assaults are reported, and suspects that the number was closer to 19,000.
Duder hopes the changes to the Department of Defense’s policy on women in combat will change attitudes within the military.
“This is actually creating an environment of equality,” she said. “We talk about a ‘Band of Brothers,’ but then somebody puts a ‘sister’ into the group, and the female is not seen as equal. They’re second-class citizens. Not only can women advance and achieve in the military, they’re also more likely to be seen as equal.”
Duder has been raising awareness about sexual assaults by promoting a documentary film called “The Invisible War,” which is a film about sexual assaults in the military which came out in 2012. She said the American Legion plans to show the film for free in Washington in February.