Women in Combat: Ghosts on the Battlefield
While my brothers and sisters in arms have been energetically arguing the Infantry question, the civilian population has been having an entirely different discussion altogether, and a poorly-informed one at that; it seems the country has no idea where women have been serving for the last decade.
The group Combat Veterans for Congress issued the following statement on their website:
There is very big difference in women flying combat missions, providing medical support in combat, in providing MP Guard duty, being involved in convoy duty, being involved in intelligence support, etc., and being in a Combat Infantry Unit for three months on end with improper hygiene facilities, with no breaks, and facing an enemy daily—face to face—in a killing zone.
They are right, and they are wrong. There is a difference, but it is all still combat, and the general public is operating under the assumption that our women in uniform have been sheltered from that. Rather than changing reality, lifting the ban may—after permitted exceptions are applied—do nothing more than simply recognize what has already been taking place, but that's worth finally recognizing.
It is also worth noting that while women do not serve in the Infantry, they have come much closer to it than people realize, and have therefore dealt with the off-putting hygiene issues. If you've been horrified to read about marines defecating in bags beside fellow soldiers, and if you've wondered how that translates to women dealing with their menstrual cycles while on a mission and in close quarters with men, here's your answer: I used that bag to deal with my cycle in the back of a HMMWV next to the feet of my gunner who happened to be a male. War is war and a team is a team whether you're a man or a woman; get over it. It's already happening.
The physical limitations argument is valid, but not for half the reasons I've heard cited. A female marine who wrote an op-ed entitled "Some advice on women in combat from a female veteran" makes the case that shorter females will need a leg up to scale a ten-foot wall, endangering the lives of the men who can do it all by themselves. I know very few men who could scale a ten-foot wall, unaided, in full battle rattle, and if this marine is being told that's what her male counterparts are doing, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell her.
Service members who have never been attached to a combat unit—or who have never served with women outside the wire—need to realize that passing along hearsay (such as "I saw the male combat units when I was in Iraq!") does not help; they are representing themselves to the public as subject matter experts without having lived the experience, compounding the confusion and dishonoring the service of those who have.
The men and women who have been placed in these situations should be allowed to speak for themselves, and their voices should not be overshadowed by a cacophony of marines and soldiers who can only imagine scenarios that their counterparts have already lived through.
Lest my position be misconstrued, I am not making a case for women in the Infantry, but I believe that before any real discussion takes place, people need to know where and how women are serving, in the here-and-now.
Nicky Vale is the pen name of an Army veteran who is happy to be stateside with her beloved husband and son. She is considering writing further about her service experiences at a future date.