By the time last week when the order to allow women to be assigned to combat units was signed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. John Dempsey the event was a fait accompli.
More than 280,000 women have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq in the past nearly 11 years, and 150 of them have been killed in combat according to a recent New York Times editorial.
The women KIA’s have been mostly drivers, mechanics, helicopter pilots, medical and supply personnel and intelligence officers who circumvented the 1994 rule phohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units below brigade level – a brigade is 3400 troops separated into eight battillions and farther from the front lines – by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time – which was at the front lines doing their designated jobs by supporting the ground combat units.
In other words, ‘been there, done that, but it’s not on the official record because officially I wasn’t recognized as being there in combat, even if I was wounded or killed.’
That will all change now, women – who make up 15% of our armed forces – will actually be assigned to ground combat units, possibly as early as this year, and will be able to maintain the same upward career path and promotions tied to combat assignments as their fellow soldiers.
Special Operations assessments of opportunities for women in the Navy Seals and Delta Force units are being made and will be reported by the end of 2014
Tampa Bay lost one of those women who was deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence specialist last October when a unit she was supporting was attacked by a suicide bomber.
Army Spc. Brittany Gordon was her name, she was 24, and she was from St. Petersburg.
Her death, and the presence in Tampa of Macdill AFB, the home of CENTCOM and SOCOM help to bring all of this much closer to mind than if the signing of that order were a mere abstraction regarding overall military issues.
And people Examiner talked to in Tampa had a few things to say about women in combat.
An informal poll conducted during the Gasparilla holiday and parade -an appropriate place if ever it being like a battleground at times -showed a clear divide of opinion.
Veterans of wars -Korean, Afghanistan, Iraq – were evenly divided, however, more than half of the people who had seen actual combat in those wars were solidly behind the order, while others seemed to favor the notion that women in the armed forces should be in charge of laundry, socks and morale.
Women who were toting young daughters with them along the Gasparilla parade route were also divided. More than half shuddered at the thought, some said they would be proud of their daughters for anything they wanted to be or do in life. The daughters mostly just grinned.
One staggering Pirate in full battle garb stared at the reporter and just said, ‘huhmmphh?’
A bartender along the route had the right idea, she just reminded the reporter that she handles the busiest rowdiest late night bar crowd in Hyde Park and she can handle any real battle field.
This reporter once knew a battlefied commander in Central America who was a woman. She was an FMLN commander -FMLN being the guerrillas who were battling U.S. backed countries in high-intensity conflicts, i.e. unconventional warfare.
The kind of warfare our troops are involved in now and most likely will be involved in during the next few decades.
She was good at her job. Excellent in fact, and her soldiers respected her. And she wasn’t in charge of laundry, socks or morale.
And then, there’s St. Joan of Arc. Remember her? Commanded a great army who delivered the throne of France to a young king. Ok, well, we all know what happened to her too, but that’s another war story.