Women Vets and Women in Combat


Melanie Espinal – Special to the Southern News

When the adrenaline gets going it doesn’t matter if women are built the same way as men, said Jennifer Smith, they can do anything a man can do.

Last December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter declared that in January 2016, all military occupations would be open to women. This included the nearly 222,000 combative positions in infantry, armor, reconnaissance, and some special operations units, that were previously inaccessible.

Jack Mordente, Director of the Veteran’s Office said there are 69 women in the veteran program at Southern. This includes veterans in multiple branches, reservists like Smith, and dependents of the military. Dependents are any spouse, child, or grandchild, or possible relative of a sponsoring military member for purposes of pay or special benefits, like the GI bill.

Mordente said there aren’t a lot of women who have passed the test in these combative positions because they haven’t been open for more than a few months.

“We probably won’t see those women at Southern,” he said, “for at least three years.”

This, he said, is because that’s the minimum duration of service.

Smith, a junior computer science major, and a National Guard private, said she is the only female in her unit, and is always trying to prove herself, just like everyone else.

“I feel like everybody thinks they can’t do something at one point,” she said. “It’s just your mind.”

“I think it only takes one moment to prove that women can have those small percentage of jobs,” she said. “As of now no one has proved it that much.”

In a Quinnipiac University study in the beginning of 2013, 75 percent of those polled said that women should be allowed to serve in combat positions, while 22 percent said they should not. Of those who responded, 41 percent said women’s presence in combat situations enhances military effectiveness, while 32 percent said it compromises it.

Genevieve Ard, a veteran who served as an aviation electrical technician, working with pilots, said she’s met with a few women who are just as physically apt as men.

Ard said there is no issue with women in any positions as long as they pass the standards.

She said when she joined the Navy in 1985 there were 80 women out of 2,000 soldiers in her wing.

She said there are many ways women enhance military effectiveness, like in the Middle East.

“Whenever you’re dealing with the Muslim population, a man searching a woman is prohibited,” she said. “So you’ll have women soldiers embedded with these units.”

She said typically what people complain about are the logistics, like the convenience of peeing standing up, or menstrual cycle complications. Yet she said females have held similar combative positions in countries like Israel for years.

Guys have the same logistical issue, she said, in terms of hygiene and there isn’t really a difference.

What they don’t talk about, she said, is how those standards are arbitrary and don’t measure realistic situations.

Ryan Dostie, was a Persian/Farsi and Dari linguist for five years in the military, and served three years in the National Guard as reporter. Today Dostie, a new mother, is a disabled veteran finishing up her masters in the fine arts of creative writing.

When she joined in 2000, she was sent to Fort Sill Oklahoma, where she said even the drill sergeants didn’t want the women there.

The first day of jogging exercises, she said, she recalled men singing a cadence song along the lines of raping your wife.

Dostie said women have been in combat since Afghanistan, and have been dealing with some opposition for about 13 years.

An issue, she said, that often comes up is unit cohesion, and whether men would be distracted by the integration.

There’s always an adjustment period, she said. During World War II white units and black units were segregated. She said there was probably an adjustment period after that time.

They used the same excuses to defend the segregation of the troops then too, she said, like blacks aren’t brave enough, and other racist notions.

She said there are so many instances of soldiers being selfless and throwing themselves on grenades to save their comrades, with women it won’t be much different.

There are a lot of limitation in the military, she said, most are subtle.

“You definitely have to prove yourself a lot more,” she said. “You’re like an ambassador for your sex.”

When a man messes up, she said, it’s all on him, but when a woman does it, it forms the entire perception of women in the military.

Another issue, which she also addresses frequently in her thesis, a memoir about her experience as a woman in the military, is sexual assault.

“One big difference they made is an option to report it without pressing charges, so that it is quiet but on the record,” she said. “They didn’t have that when I was in.”

If anything happened in past investigations everybody found out, she said, and nothing was usually done. In most cases people had to keep working alongside their abuser, which is something she said she experienced.

This relatively new report policy allows for the time-sensitivity to be less of a restriction, she said. Now military complainants have 60 days from the date of the incident to file a formal complaint, according to the Army website, and civilians have 45 days of an alleged action; Whereas informal complaints don’t have specific time restraints.

These positions, she said, are opening up a lot quicker, and in 15 years it’s going to be completely different.

People will realize, she said, that women who want these positions aren’t damsels in distress, and they can handle themselves.

“Just like ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was a big deal for a short while,” she said. “We’ll look back and say ‘Oh remember when.’”

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