End of Combat Ban Will Give Women Recognition They Deserve
As a proud nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army, I am glad to celebrate the end of the ban on women in combat as part of AAUW’s Women’s History Month activities. Ending the ban doesn’t mean that military women will automatically be granted these positions, but it does mean we will finally have a military based fully on merit and ability. Our servicewomen will earn the fair pay, promotions, and recognition they deserve for work that they have already been doing.
Women fought disguised as men in the Civil War, although both armies prohibited women from enlisting. A contingent of the Women’s Army Corps landed on the beaches of Normandy just a few weeks after invasion in World War II. In Iraq and Afghanistan, women have been fired upon, fought back, and been wounded or killed. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), is among the wounded. Duckworth, who lost both legs after the helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq, quipped when asked about the ban’s end, “Well, it’s not like I lost my legs in a bar fight.” When Shoshana Johnson became the first African American prisoner of war, she wasn’t stationed at the Pentagon; she was in a convoy that came under fire in Iraq. These women and thousands more are continuing to put their lives in danger to serve.
According to the Department of Defense, ending the ban will open up 237,000 positions to women. Although women make up nearly 15 percent of the armed forces, the ban excluded women from approximately 20 percent of jobs. These positions frequently pay more and are often required for promotion to top ranks. Ending the ban means qualified women will not be excluded from top leadership.
Having more women in the chain of command will increase demands to address the epidemic of sexual assault and violence in the military. Recent surveys of female veterans found that close to a third were victims of rape or assault while they were serving, which is double the rate in the civilian population. In 2008, the Pentagon estimated that “80 percent to 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attributed the sexual assault statistics in part to the fact that women have been subordinated to men in military culture: “It’s because we’ve had separate classes of military personnel.” The impact of this separation was seen at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where 32 Air Force instructors have been accused of sexual assault against more than 60 female recruits. Yet during a House Armed Services Committee meeting in January, Gen. Mark Welsh attempted to shift responsibility to the victims, saying “Why, on the worst day of their life, don’t they come forward? That’s the heart of the problem.” With respect, that’s not the problem. The problem is permitting climates hostile to women. Having women in top leadership is a big step toward fighting this problem.
Ending the ban will also improve troop safety by allowing women access to necessary combat training. In several units, specialized training is offered to those in combat positions, but the ban has prevented women from receiving this training. On-the-job training isn’t smart or safe; proper preparation is.
Although the ban won’t be fully lifted for a few years, the announcement broke through another barrier that existed for women and will bring servicewomen the recognition they so richly deserve — both from the public and from the military. I completely agree with President Obama, who said that ending the ban means that “every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger with our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love.”
Ending the combat ban makes me proud — as a veteran, as an American, and as a woman. Women want to serve and have been serving in combat. We owe them recognition, equal treatment, and our full support.