Women in army combat roles ‘a long time in coming’
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2013 16:02
After the U.S. formally lifted the ban that prevented female soldiers and Marines from serving in direct ground combat roles, some at Ohio State don’t think the decision will put many women in harm’s way.
“I think this was a long time in coming,” said Army Lt. Col. Mike Lear, an OSU professor of military science. “Our female soldiers have faced the same dangers as their male counterparts for the last 10 plus years and have proven that they have the courage, the discipline and the physical and mental toughness to meet that challenge.”
The decision, which was announced last month, will allow hundreds of thousands of women to fight in front-line roles, direct combat positions and will potentially open elite commando, or special force, positions to women. However, warfare is not the same as it used to be.
Unlike the linear battlefields of World War II where the enemy was directly in front of forces, making the front lines dangerous and the back lines safer, there are no front lines in recent conflicts like the like War in Afghanistan, Lear said.
“What this does is expand the career opportunities for the female soldiers and (it also) expands the pool of qualified personnel that we have so now we’re not limiting ourselves. Every person that is qualified for a job will be able to be assigned to that job,” Lear said.
Other armies have included women in combat positions in the past, including the Soviet army, said Peter Mansoor, associate professor and Raymond E. Mason Jr. chair in military history.
“In the U.S. we integrated women in the 1970s, but they were limited to non-combat specialties. Since that time, they’ve opened up some specialties to women like pilots in the Air Force.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Stacy Pearsall told The New York Times she didn’t feel like her peers cared that she was a woman.
“I can’t speak for the men, but I feel that when the bullets were flying, they didn’t care that I was a woman, as long as I was pulling the trigger,” Pearsall said.
In January 1994, the Secretary of Defense Les Aspin established a new assignment role that allowed all members of the service to be assigned to all positions they were qualified for but excluded women from assignments to units below the brigade level. The brigade level is historically based further away from the front line according to government information on the direct combat definition.
“Women were allowed into those combat positions by exception. Now, those jobs will only be closed by an exception of policy,” Lear said.
Military officials have set a timeline for female soldiers to be integrated fully into fighting on the front lines by January 2016.
“The army wants to take a deliberate approach to make sure we do things right and set conditions so every soldier has the opportunity for success,” Lear said. “We don’t want to rush (the female integration) and create a situation where people are disadvantaged because they haven’t had a chance to be trained properly.”
Women make up more than 14 percent of soldiers in the entire United States military. In the Army ROTC at OSU, women represent about 20 percent of the cadets, Lear said.
Lear pointed out that most cadets have the same duties.
“A cadet is a cadet,” Lear said. “We train our cadets the same. I am confident that any of our cadets could go out there and serve our country with honor and distinction.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 8, 2013
An earlier version of this article attributed the last quote of the story to Peter Mansoor. In fact, Army Lt. Col. Mike Lear said the quote that begins, "A cadet is a cadet."