Today: Jun 17, 2024

The changes to a woman’s role in combat

Photo Courtesy | Derek Torrellas

Derek Torrellas – Special to the Southern News

A woman engaged in front-line combat is nothing new in the archives of history, according to Heather Cyr, but the doors officially opened Jan. 23 to women filling direct combat roles in the U.S. military.

Photo Courtesy | Derek Torrellas
Photo Courtesy | Derek Torrellas

“During the American Revolution and Civil War, women were disguising themselves as men and fighting,” said Cyr, a women’s studies graduate student writing a doctoral thesis on women in the military.

According to a Department of Defense press release, around 202,400 women serve on active duty, which accounts for almost 15 percent of the total number. Most military occupations had been open to women for some time, but those under the definition of direct ground combat had excluded females. With the removal of the last gender-based barriers, the DOD intends to fully integrate the U.S. military by 2016.

With every job in the military available to both genders the impact on society goes beyond just the armed forces, according to Cyr. It can prove to women in general that they are as capable as men. She also said she believed that realistically many people will be scared of the change. For instance, if the Selective Service System is also amended to allow women to be drafted it could mean large numbers of women would be called up in an emergency; previously the U.S. has only seen men drafted.

Photo Courtesy | Derek Torrellas
Photo Courtesy | Derek Torrellas

One of the old cultural concepts that will be broken is the assumption that women need protection, said Professor Tricia Lin, director of the Women’s Studies department.

“It is kind of a mixed blessing,” Lin said. “On the surface we have protectors. But it is also very patronizing, because who is making the decision that we need protecting?”

Lin added that she thinks the combat zone will eventually reflect the civilian world; men and women working side-by-side in businesses that were previously male dominated.

Other countries have had women serving in direct combat roles for some time, including Canada, Australia, several European nations, and perhaps most prominently – Israel. A third of the Israeli Defense Force is women, according to an Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs article dated March 2009.

While women have proven themselves in Israeli front-line forces, it is a fear of the unknown in the U.S., said Bryan Townsend, a sophomore pre-nursing major and former Marine machine-gunner.

“It’s never been field tested here,” said Townsend, who has experienced direct combat in Afghanistan. “It is such an unknown that it’s just uncomfortable for everyone.”

One of the recurring arguments against women in infantry-type jobs is the physical strength demanded. Townsend said with his typical full combat load around 150 pounds he sometimes moved 10 to 15 kilometers on foot. The issue with physical demands was not necessarily gender specific; he said it bothered him that a lot of men in the infantry who were weaker could barely perform up to standards.

“If women can do it then they should go for it,” Townsend said. “But if they are going to complain then they’re going to have to get out.”

It is a matter of choosing a person – male or female – that is capable of performing a certain job, according to Anna Walters, a senior social work major and veteran of the War in Iraq. In combat zones she sometimes had to carry a large machine gun.

“It’s not impossible,” said Walters. “And that’s with me not even being in infantry.”

For Lin, the prospect is “tremendous” of no longer having limits.

“Just imagine,” said Lin, “girls who are three or four have never learned about the restrictions of being able to serve.”

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