Although many military analysts, politicians and civilians voiced their concern for both male and female military members when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the U.S. military’s ban on women in infantry combat positions on Jan. 24, many of those service men and women are not as concerned as some of the public.
“I think that the lift on the ban is a crucial step for many civilians to recognize the female contribution to combat,” said 2nd Lt. Mackenzie Merrick, a 2012 graduate of CU Boulder and member of the Army. “Women have been in combat roles and combat support roles for some time now and have been serving in positions that have been thought to be executable by males only until now.”
Col. Steve Dinauer, Commanding Officer and professor of naval science at CU Boulder, noted that in the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, women were and are engaging and fighting the enemy, regardless of the ban. Although those soldiers were fighting, Dinauer pointed out the important distinction that women couldn’t apply for infantry positions before the ban was lifted.
“Those women weren’t in what we in the profession would term a combat unit,” Dinauer said. “They were barred from being in an infantry battalion, which is all male. What the ban [lifting] does is open up these infantry battalions so women can join the military, let’s say the marines, and say ‘I’m an infantry marine.’”
“The ban wasn’t matched with the reality that many women found themselves in,” Dinauer continued. “If the ban isn’t enforced, then you might as well get rid of it.”
Despite women of the military currently having to protect themselves and others overseas, there are several arguments that the public presented in recent weeks. One of the most concerning is that co-ed battalions would have to deal with issues of lust and attraction. Dinauer said that all branches of the military have policies and regulations in place to address inappropriate relationships, so a distracting environment should not be a major concern on the front lines. Merrick agreed.
“Women are soldiers, just like men,” Merrick said. “There should be no reason that men in a unit would be focusing on anything besides the mission, regardless of whether or not their unit is co-ed. On the same token, females should focus only on the mission as well. We do not have the room for a soldier who cannot do his job effectively and can be distracted easily.”
Members of the public also expressed concern for women who would not have access to regular hygiene. Merrick said that she would feel comfortable going into combat because the Army stresses preparation and planning for every situation.
“If [a soldier] plans ahead and prepares to go into a situation that she knows will potentially keep her away from modern comforts and conveniences, she should take the extra steps to prepare and be able to take care of herself regardless of the environment that she may find herself in,” Merrick said.
Some critics of the ban lifting believe that women could face stigmas in co-ed units. Merrick could see that this might be a problem but that it would depend on the specific unit.
“If a female enters a unit that has a negative predisposition towards females performing in combat, then she will most likely have a much more difficult time integrating with that unit and making forward progress,” Merrick said. “However, if she walks into a unit with a neutral or a positive attitude about the change, she will have a much easier transition and will have perhaps a better opportunity to perform and have a positive effect on the image of a female in combat.”
Regardless of the criticisms that many have for the ban being lifted, Dinauer argued that those criticisms are irrelevant when it comes to deciding who should serve on the front lines.
“A good marine is a good marine whether they’re male or female,” he said. “If I’m in charge of an infantry unit, I’m just as concerned whether the female can do the mission as the male marine doing the mission.”
As an officer, Merrick sees no difference between one soldier and the next.
“At the end of the day, a soldier is a soldier, regardless of gender, religion, race or sexual orientation… I’m here for love of country, and I am privileged to be surrounded by soldiers who are here for the same,” Merrick said
According to the Associated Press, none of the current physical standards will be lowered just to send more women to the battlefield. The branches of service have until January 2016 to develop plans for allowing women to seek combat positions or to make a case to that some positions should remain closed to women, according to a senior military official.
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Note: The views expressed by Col. Dinauer and 2nd Lt. Merrick are their own opinions and not official sentiments from the Department of Defense.
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.email@example.com.