Editor’s Note: Ana Sofia Knauf is a multimedia journalist and graduate of University of Washington’s Journalism program. She was a writing intern for The Seattle Times opinion department.
United States Department of Defense officials’ decision to open up combat positions to enlisted women is long overdue. Many of these service members already made the greatest sacrifice by dying for their country. More than 150 servicewomen have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In January, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced his plan to lift the Pentagon’s 1994 ban on women participating in combat. U.S. Marine Corps and Army officials are beginning work on a timeline to implement gender-neutral integration policies by 2016. Army officials say they will open up more than 230,000 positions to women.
Women fight alongside their military units while also serving as medics, engineers, pilots and in a number of other posts. While these are technically noncombat positions, many women in these roles are attached to combat units.
Combat experience is a significant factor when promotions are considered. Yet, when servicewomen find themselves in a firefight or other attacks, their experience fighting back or being injured is not recognized as participating in combat. The roles these women now fulfill make it possible for the military to function. Their jobs are vital to the success of missions overseas, but they are also harrowing.
Just like their male counterparts, servicewomen die when their helicopters are shot down. They are also victims of roadside bombings. They must also deal with the haunting traumas of war when they return home.
Critics of removing the ban cited biological weakness to keep women from combat. While physical fitness is critics’ focus, their argument is completely bogus. As proposed by the Department of Defense, servicewomen seeking previously closed-off combat positions must pass the same training programs as male officers.
For example, both men and women will be required to scale walls and march long distances while carrying more than 100 pounds of gear on their backs. Fitness levels are also dependent upon the job. For example, tank personnel would need to carry and load a 40-pound artillery shell into a tank’s gun.
Opening jobs to enlisted servicewomen does not mean sending women out to the battlefield unprepared. These new posts gave DOD heads an opportunity to review and update current physical training programs, if needed.
If servicewomen successfully pass required training, their wishes to fight on the front lines need to be honored by their superiors.