Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Women in combat

The Pentagon just made a huge announcement!  Women are to be allowed in combat roles in the military.

Why is this such a big deal?  There's a lot of reasons, many touched on in the article. I'll briefly go through some of them.

1) In order to advance one's career in the military combat experience is a must.  Combat medals are huge resume builders, both in and out of the military.  Since women weren't allowed in combat roles, they couldn't acquire official combat experience or combat medals.

2) Women have already been serving in combat.  They get "attached" to units in Iraq or Afghanistan, as female soldiers can talk to female villagers and gain information the men can't.  What that means is the women are on the same patrols, carrying the same guns and gear, living in the same conditions, and facing the same dangers as their male counterparts.  The only difference is the men are getting official combat experience and the women aren't.

3) "Combat roles" have been shrinking.  Roles that used to be classified as combat roles are not anymore because women do them.  Helicopter pilot and armored personnel carrier (APC) driver are two egregious examples.  In one case, a female helicopter pilot landed her helicopter under heavy fire, extracted a group of soldiers, and got everyone back out.  Every soldier including the helicopter gunner got a medal except for her, because she was not in a combat role.  This is absurd.  Women have been in combat roles for a long time and should be recognized for their contributions.

There's still a lot to be done about sexism and misogyny in the military.  The military is, in fact, one of the most toxic, machismo-filled environments in the US.  However, in acknowledging that women can fight, this announcement could start to break down the idea that women are inherently weaker or less capable than men.  The excuses we hear(d) sound a lot like the ones people gave for why Black men were unsuitable for combat- they were too weak, or their temperament was unsuitable, or it would make them unstable and dangerous.  It wasn't true about Black men, and it's not true about women.  So good for the Pentagon, and also it's about time.

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