The role of women in combat has been hotly debated for some time in the US and its allies. In lifting the ban, Panetta said
that women had become integral to the military's success and have shown they are willing to fight and die alongside their male counterparts. During a news conference with the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Martin E. Dempsy, Panetta announce the lifting of the ban stating that the time had come for our policies to recognize that reality. The lifting of the ban will not result in the lowering of any qualification standards and Panetta pointed out that not every woman will be able to meet the standards, but that everyone is entitled to a chance.
What are the potential problems with the lifting of the ban?
For many, both in and outside the military, this is a controversial decision. As was the case with elimination of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," which openly allowed gay soldiers in the military, after the initial noises the arguments often go away.
Canada officially permitted gays to serve in its military in the mid 90s. While there were initial objections by the rank and file, problems were few and objections soon all but disappeared. Similar objections were common in the 70s, when most military qualifications were opened to women except for combat trades.
There were the normal arguments that men and women fall in love and it undermines military discipline and unit cohesion. In addition there are the arguments that women are not physically capable to perform these duties. The fact is that some men are not capable to perform these physically demanding tasks either.
According to the New York Times
, in an interview with Captain Jayme Phillips, a Canadian artillery officer, who commanded both Canadian and American troops during combat in Afghanistan, the topic of women in combat roles no longer enters the conversation.
“It’s just so ingrained in my generation that it seems silly to hear the same old arguments again,” she said.
Mr. Austen wrote:
Women make up about 12 percent of the total military force but Canada’s Department of National Defense did not disclose how many of them are in combat roles. A study presented in late 2011 by Krystel Carrier-Sabourin, a doctoral student at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, found that 310 women filled combat roles in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011.
National Public Radio (NPR) asks five questions, which are pertinent with the lifting of the ban.
How many combat positions are there in the military?
According to the Pentagon there are 237,000 combat positions that have been closed to women prior to the lifting of the ban. Overall 1.4 million women are in the US military.
Will women still be barred from some units?
Since all service branches will be asked to come up with an integration plan by May 15, 2013, with exemptions, there will be some positions closed to women.
Will the standards be different for men and women?
Leon Panetta has been clear that the lifting of the ban will not lower the qualification standards for women. If he is taken at his word, nothing should change. NPR raises the question of whether or not a woman could carry a 200 lb body, if one of their team members were wounded. The answer should be simple: there are men and women that can and others that can't. The vetting process for those classifications should easily identify them.
Are women not serving in combat already?
While not in a role of front line infantry soldiers, women are not exempt from combat in today's modern battlefield, whether it be in Afghanistan or a conventional theater of war. With today's technology, everyone is either in or close to combat.
One of the first 158 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan was an artillery officer, who was known personally to the author. Captain Nichola Goddard
was killed in Afghanistan on May 17, 2006.
Goddard was killed on May 17, 2006, during a firefight in the Panjwaye District. It was part of a joint two-day operation between Canadian and Afghan troops, to secure Kandahar's outskirts after a rumor of Taliban preparations to launch an assault on the city. As troops were moving into a mosque to capture 15 alleged Taliban members, several dozen hidden militants began firing from neighbouring houses. As a crew commander, Goddard was standing half-exposed in her LAV III, which was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades early in the battle. The battle lasted most of the day and into the night, and ended shortly after an American B-1 Lancer dropped a 225 kg bomb. In the end, the two-day operation saw Goddard, an Afghan National Army soldier, and 40 Taliban killed, as well as approximately 20 Taliban captured, which early reports mistakenly said could have included Mullah Dadullah.
Captain Goddard embodied the qualities of a combat officer and demonstrated that women are not only capable of leading combat troops but are also ready to pay the ultimate price.
Will women have better opportunities to advance in the military?
The art of war is the essence of a military profession. As such, leadership in combat is an essential element. Those having had leadership roles in combat units, obviously receive consideration to move on to the more senior positions in the military. With women serving in combat positions this will open more doors and opportunities to advance.
The United States will be joining eight allied nations that already permit women to serve in combat positions. Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand and Norway have opened combat classifications for women. National Geographic magazine
states that the Pentagon is looking at the experiences of Canada and Australia, countries that have worked closely with US troops, to determine exactly how to integrate women into combat positions.
At the beginning there will be the initial teething problems, which is the case for any new policy. There are still many unanswered questions, such as how would would a draft affect women. In the end the experience of women in a combat role will be second nature and will receive acceptance by most military personnel.