Military women hail change in combat rule
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2013
1/26/13 at 7:45 AM
Cadet Emily Bonner of the Oklahoma State University ROTC program said every military opportunity she has sought has been open to her.
But she said Thursday's removal of prohibitions on women in combat positions is important.
"For any female who's interested in the military, this is a pretty big deal, whether you agree with it or not," Bonner said. "It opens up a whole new opportunity for better promotions and more career advancement."
Bonner, 21, has been assigned as an ordnance officer and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant this year. Her military responsibilities are in the management of ammunition, general purpose vehicles and ground support material. She is seeking a career in the medical field as a therapist.
"The rule change doesn't directly affect me right now because I'm going to be an ordnance officer for the first couple of years," she said. "Honestly, I'm not interested in a combat arms position, but possibly in the future. It might affect the type of unit or mission I'm assigned to go on."
Bonner enlisted in the Army when she was in high school and completed her basic and advanced training before attending OSU. She is up at 5:30 a.m. each day for physical training before classes.
"It teaches you to be motivated and have willpower," she said. "You have to have determination, and your friends are there to pull you through. It's a lot of extra work, but it's worth it."
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Thursday that about 237,000 combat posts - many in Army and Marine infantry units and in elite commando squads - will be open to women.
The change overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to small ground-combat units.
"It forces the services to codify what has been in effect," said Lt. Col. Mark Depew, commander of the University of Oklahoma Reserve Officer Training Corps. "It's a great thing."
The change is not immediate and doesn't mean all closed positions will be opened.
Service chiefs will develop plans to allow women to compete for combat positions, possibly with gender-neutral standards.
Assessments will be made quickly for some posts, but others, such as special operations forces, may take longer. The integration will be completed by 2016.
Women serving overseas are already seeing combat.
Pfc. Sarina Butcher, 19, of Checotah was the first woman from the Oklahoma National Guard to die in action since women were allowed to join in 1971.
Butcher, of Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Brigade, was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 1, 2011, and is the youngest Oklahoma Guard soldier to die in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Women are on patrols, taking and returning fire, making door-to-door checks and engaging in military rebuilding efforts in the war-torn countries.
"The change reflects the reality of today's battlefield, especially in counterinsurgency," said Oklahoma National Guard spokesman Mark Moss. "We no longer operate on linear battlefields. There are no front lines."
About 10 percent of the 3,200 soldiers in the 45th Infantry Brigade are women, Moss said.
"The decision provides opportunities for women to demonstrate their physical and mental strength with men in a combat unit," Moss said. "Our aim is to ensure female soldiers are provided a full career opportunity so they can reach their highest potential, obtain equal recognition and enhance the overall readiness of the Oklahoma National Guard."
Women make up 15 percent of all active-duty military personnel, 16 percent of National Guard units and 20 percent of the reserves, according to the Department of Defense.
Of the active-duty branches, women make up about 19 percent of the Air Force, 16 percent of the Navy, 16 percent of the Coast Guard, 14 percent of the Army and 7 percent of the Marine Corps.
By eliminating the prohibition, women will be allowed to seek equal promotions, said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, state secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs.
"Women are already doing it but are not given credit for it on personnel files," Aragon said. "How we end up ranking is part of the promotion process."
Aragon said certain combat badges are not awarded to women because they are not officially allowed to do the jobs they're doing. She said the military responded by creating a different badge to recognize those women.
"It opens the dialogue again. It's good, but it's going to be painful," Aragon said. "We are focusing on our differences rather than pulling the unique abilities of everyone serving."
Aragon served not only as the first female commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard but also as the first woman to command any state's Air National Guard and the first American Indian woman to become a general officer.
The arguments against women in combat are not new to Aragon, who served on the White House Commission on Military Leadership Diversity.
Usually, the concerns are about logistics of hygiene, privacy, or how men and women relate in small groups, she said.
"They just can't get past the wiring differences in men and females," she said. "This opens the dialogue for women who have served so valiantly the last 10 years, who have lost their lives, suffered from PTSD and have lost limbs.
"This gives them hope that we can outgrow these notions."
Not changing the standards for women is important to maintaining a strong military, Aragon said.
"If a man has to run a certain distance in a certain time, a woman should, too," Aragon said. "You must hold the same standards or you will get a substandard product. We all serve the same people and want the very best of the very best. As long as we do that, the best will rise to the top."
Aragon said she sees opinions changing among younger soldiers, who have served on equal footing with women in the past decade.
"It will take another generation to weed through those preconceived notions," she said. "That's OK. We'll get there."
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement on his concerns about the change. He stated that he was on the committee in 1994 when the ban was put into place.
"Because that policy has worked so well for so long, I am concerned about the potential impacts of completely ending this policy," Inhofe said.
The Armed Services Committee will have an opportunity to review the assessments and decisions made by military chiefs.
"During that time, if necessary, we will be able to introduce legislation to stop any changes we believe to be detrimental to our fighting forces and their capabilities," Inhofe stated. "I suspect there will be cases where legislation becomes necessary."
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Emily Bonner: Although the change allowing women in combat positions doesn't currently affect her, it may have an impact on her future career.