Timberlake: Pentagon lifts ban on women in combat

Ian Timberlake

Second in military chain of command to none other than POTUS himself, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has lifted the Pentagon ruling on women in combat. Specifically, Panetta lifted a ban that prevents women from taking part in ground combat positions.

Until now, and only recently, the closest women have been able to hold combat positions are in Air Force fighters and Navy ships. Congress will have thirty days to think on Panetta’s decision.

Just this past November, four military women along with the American Civil Liberties Union, sued Panetta and the Pentagon over the combat exclusion rule. They claimed that there were in fact women serving alongside men in Afghanistan and Iraq that were taking enemy fire as well as returning it but never being recognized for their combat efforts, and therefore, passed on promotions.

In just Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 900 women have been wounded in battle, accounting for about 2 percent of all Americans wounded in combat since 2001.

Nearly 15 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces is comprised of women. Previously, women were allowed to hold over 90 percent of all military positions, excluding infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers, special forces and any position that has a high lack of privacy (e.g. submarines).

Possibly a post-Petraeus facelift, Panetta is giving the branches until January 2016 to implement the changes and come forward with any recommended exceptions, hinting at the possibility of continuing the exclusion of women in the special forces and/or infantry.

So the question remains, should women be allowed to serve in ground combat positions?

It depends.

As a former member of the Air Force ROTC, I can tell you that our branch (as well as all others) had a separate physical fitness standard for women. Push-ups, sit-ups and run times were markedly lower than that of men. If women were to take part in ground combat, you bet your ass I’d want her to be able to carry me out of a sticky situation if I were to get shot.

For this move towards equality to be granted, I deem it only obligatory that fitness standards become sexually ambiguous but equally difficult. Either that or we throw back to the time of segregated units — but instead of by race, by gender. Not an appealing thought.

Fitness is just the obvious point of argument. The greatest point of discussion is that of unity.

The single greatest catastrophe any military unit can obtain is disunity. The greatest reason for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, as well as the policy barring women in combat (and African-Americans many years ago) was the possibility of creating disunity. Just because brass is ready for equality, does not mean the members of the military are ready for equality.

An example of this disunity is in the book “The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq” where Helen Benedict gives an investigative account of women’s struggles in the military as a result of being around men. She cites many testimonials as well as studies showing: 30 percent of military women are raped while serving, 71 percent are sexually assaulted and 90 percent are sexually harassed. Funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs, these numbers ruffled enough of the Department of Defense’s feathers to warrant an apathetic response.

Even if these numbers are by and large inaccurate, it’s still convincing enough that our military men are not prepared to cohesively work with women in a theater of combat — either that or women should be aware of this going in. Enforcing the law within the military is a necessity, though it often gets put on the back burner due to interests of wartime being placed at a higher priority.

On the flip side, in Israel, women were once allowed in close combat but are not anymore. The greatest reason was actually due to the fact that men reacted excessively protective, especially when a woman was wounded — so much so, it marred unit performance.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe women should take part in ground combat with the reservation that they meet the same standards as all other servicemen, but there is no doubt in my mind that this ruling will create disunity and tension among the ground troops in our present time. The women volunteering should be aware that it’ll take more than three years to adjust.

Normally, I would never make an argument that sways nay of equality, but in the interest of the lives of our soldiers and the security of America’s borders — testosterone and estrogen are difficult to mix and must be intensely scrutinized.

——————————————————————————————-Ian Timberlake is a senior in aerospace engineering from Chicago, Illinois.