This week, the Department of Defense announced that women in the military would be officially allowed closer to the front lines of combat. I say officially because during the Iraq and Afghanistan fighting, women medics, helicopter pilots, intelligence officers, and MPs were sometimes sent to work with the combat troops although they were not assigned to them. The policy change is really a reflection of reality. Other countries have allowed women in front line positions for some time including Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Poland, Russia, & Sweden.
Why does this matter? Combat duty affects the individual’s ability to be promoted in the armed forces. Yes, some people get promoted without but it is harder to accomplish. President Obama has just nominated Air Force Lt. General Janet Wolfenbarger to become the first female 4-star general in that branch of service. She will be just the second woman to become a 4-star general in the history of the US. Women soldiers and marines have been barred from about 250,000 positions because of a ban established in 1994; even now, there are more than 230,000 positions that are blocked. Women in the military feel they will still suffer from limited opportunities and hope remaining restrictions will be removed.
What’s interesting is to hear some of the negative reactions to the moves. Some congressmen expressed concern that this might compromise the nation’s security. The connotation is that women won’t be as effective as men. Rick Santorum indicated that having women in combat positions will distract male colleagues because the men will be more concerned with protecting the women than fulfilling their missions. Here, the connotation is that men are too emotional (huh?!).
The most absurd reaction was totally unrelated to the immediate change in regulations. Liz Trotta (a pundit for Fox news) commented not on the expanded roles of women in the military but rather focused on the information that’s been publicized about the increase of their being raped. She was indignant that “feminists” were pushing the military to investigate these occurrences with the hope of convicting those responsible. Trotta’s reaction was effectively that by joining the military, women were asking to be raped (my words, not hers). I’m convinced hers is a minority opinion. At least I hope so.
As for advancement opportunities in the military- it’s a step forward. We’ll see how long it will take for additional changes.