Women Cleared for Combat
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 02:01
The Pentagon announced Thursday that it will lift its ban on women serving in combat roles, prompting debate about gender equality in the military and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps units across the country.
"[Equality] is one of the secretary’s priorities and the rescinding of this policy is all about ending gender barriers to services," Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said. "The idea is to open up all jobs within the Department of Defense regardless of gender because our goal is to make sure that we have the best qualified, most capable people serving regardless of their sex."
Each division of the armed services will develop its own plan to implement the decision, which strives to open 237,000 combat positions to women by 2016.
According to Christensen, the military will submit a report to Congress announcing the decision and then must wait 30 days before making changes. He expects that the plan will be fully implemented by Jan. 1, 2016.
Zachary Zimmerman (MSB ’14), a former Marine who served in two combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010, said that the plan is an important step toward granting women opportunities for promotions in the military.
"It’s a difficult situation," Zimmerman said. "In school, you are measured by your grades. In finance, you’re measured by money. In the military, you’re measured by the combat you’ve seen. You’re not going to find very many generals who haven’t had combat experience, so it’s very hard for women to move up the ranks who don’t have combat experience because they’re not exposed to it."
Major Karen Saravia, assistant professor of military science and executive officer of Georgetown’s ROTC, expressed her belief that many female members of the military have not received appropriate recognition, especially for their unofficial service in combat.
"There isn’t a single uniformed member of our cadre who hasn’t served in combat with a female officer or soldier — I think all of us know some who have been killed or wounded in the line of duty," she wrote in an email. "Danger is not something that is limited to one’s occupational specialty."
However, Saravia said that the change will probably not affect current ROTC members or the curriculum, which requires basic infantry skills, or the willingness of women to partake in ROTC programs.
"The same passion to be part of an infantry company — to challenge oneself, to be part of a high-performing team, to serve one’s country — [is] already what attracts female cadets to ROTC and careers in other branches of our Army," Saravia wrote. "As future leaders, they have [an] inherent desire to push their limits and enjoy being held to an extremely high standard."
While he recognized why such a shift might be desirable, Zimmerman expressed concern that the military will not be able to maintain consistent combat standards across all branches of the military.
"If you’re going to bring women into the infantry and the forward operating units, you need to have one standard and it needs to be the consistent male standard," Zimmerman said. "There’s a reason why we have the most elite fighting force in the world, and it is because we have incredibly high and rigorous standards."
However, former Georgetown ROTC member Chloe Nalbantian (COL ’15) emphasized that many young women in the ROTC are capable of combat.
"Some of the most impressive and motivated young women I have met were in ROTC, and if they felt they wanted to enter in combat roles, I am sure they would be successful and would also have the support of all of the other members of ROTC, male or female," Nalbantian wrote in an email.
Major political organizations in Washington have had mixed reactions to the military’s decision.
Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project, expressed her support.
"We are thrilled to hear [Secretary of Defense Leon] Panetta’s announcement today recognizing that qualified women will have the same chance to distinguish themselves in combat as their brothers-in-arms," she said in a press release on Jan. 23. "But we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts."
The Family Research Council, a Christian organization and lobbying group, is opposed to the plan.
"[Women] have fought and served with distinction. However, placing women in infantry and other front-line units is a different issue and it has nothing to do with their courage or capabilities," retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin wrote in a statement.
"The people making this decision are doing so as part of another social experiment, and they have never lived nor fought with an infantry or Special Forces unit."