Policy shift reflects reality

Jennifer Hemmingsen
Published: January 27 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 10:36 am in

After Sept. 11, 2001, then-Cedar Rapids Jefferson senior Amanda Irish knew she would enlist.

She’d been thinking about college, but also about old concepts of duty and sacrifice (she was reading “The Red Badge of Courage” at the time, she remembers). The choice was clear.

“Somebody had to stand up to defend this country,” she told me Thursday. “I was as good as anyone else.”

Irish spent four years as a U.S. Marine, training Marines and sailors to defend against nuclear, biological and chemical attack. “I would have enlisted in infantry if I could have,” she told me. As things stood, that combat arms job was as close as she could get.

Irish, now 28 and a University of Iowa pre-med student, never went overseas but she knew plenty of women who did. She dismisses the traditional reasons for excluding women from combat positions just as quickly as you can list them:

“Isn’t that silly,” she said about the idea that men are somehow more expendable than women.

“The Spartans fought side-by-side with their lovers,” she said of the romantic entanglements coed combat units might allow.

“I think women understand what they’re getting into,” she said, throwing a fire blanket over any other possible objection.

The hands that are wringing after military leaders lifted the ban on women in combat last week aren’t those that can execute a proper salute. The people who know — like Irish, her fellow veterans and those still in service — see no reason not to allow qualified women to serve in combat positions.

Not all servicewomen will likely be suited for those jobs, or even want to fill them. But those who can and do should have an even chance. For years, women already have been in the line of fire — as members of Lioness and Female Engagement Teams, in Forward Support Companies, as drivers and other “non-combat” personnel caught across increasingly blurry battle lines.

As of 2011, more than 150 servicewomen had died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Service Women’s Action network. Women made up nearly 15 percent of the total active U.S. military force — 20 percent of the reserves new recruits — yet they’ve been excluded from 20 percent of active-duty jobs.

The ban has cost servicewomen honors and promotions, pay and recognition. SWAN has called the military’s combat exclusion policy “one of the last remaining institutional glass ceilings for women.”

Lifting the ban doesn’t represent any kind of terrifying culture shift. It’s a reflection of reality. The folks in our armed services know that already. It’s about time the rest of us recognized it, military and civilian alike.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.ne

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