U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently announced that the Pentagon had already lifted the ban on putting women in combat roles. This overturned a 1994 military memo which essentially prevented women from serving in the frontlines where they would be engaged in first-hand combat on the ground. The move is set to open “53,000 positions now closed by unit” and about “184,000 positions now closed by specialty” which are set to open for women who meet the standards, the Department of Defense said.
The move is said to make for a more inclusive military. President Obama himself has expressed support for Panetta’s decision, releasing a statement which read in part: “By moving to open more military positions, including ground combat units, to women, our armed forces have taken another historic step toward harnessing the talents and skills of all our citizens.” For Army General Martin E. Dempsey, the removal of the ban is done to “better align our policies with the experiences we have had over the past decade of war. “ The ultimate aim of opening more combat roles for women, he said, is to “strengthen the joint force.” In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Representative Tammy Duckworth, a U.S. veteran, says that women have been fighting in combat for a long time and considers it a “great step forward for the military and our nation…. [Women] are capable of defending our country just as well as men are.”
But not all are optimistic about the new policy. Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin who served in the US Army for 36 years and was an original member of the Delta Force says that putting women in combat roles is a “dangerous experiment” where “hundreds of thousands of men and women will be the guinea pigs.” It could potentially “impair the military effectiveness of our ground forces.” Aside from the physical toll that those serving in the infantry and Special Forces units are subjected to during operations, Boykin thinks that putting both men and women in a combat environment will burden combat commanders who will have to “focus on defeating the enemy…. in an environment that combines life-threatening danger with underlying sexual tensions.”
Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente did not mince words. For her, the large physical differences between the sexes really matter on the battlefield, where women become a “liability.” She further clarifies: “The sheer physical demands of war (to say nothing of group cohesion, and all the rest) mean that fighting capability and performance are simply not compatible with gender equality.”
CNN readers, meanwhile, were divided on the issue. Bakari supports the Pentagon’s move. He writes: “This is good. Everyone should be able to fight for their country no matter the gender.” But Jon says: “Warfare is NOT a gender neutral playing field. This is going to get a lot of people killed.” Jeff, who says that he is a “former Army man,” is more concerned that the “physical requirements” are not lessened: “I would not want to have to move / carry a 300-pound Pioneer box with a woman that can only carry 75 pounds worth of weight. If women get into the infantry or any field that is physically exerting, I will expect them to be a very buff looking woman. You want the rights, then you better carry your weight, no excuses, no exceptions otherwise stay out of my MOS.”