Women in Combat: Ghosts on the Battlefield
It is a fact that women sustain stress injury at a substantially higher rate than their male counterparts, and yes, this could potentially compromise the mission and endanger the men on the line. This is a legitimate argument and a widespread problem that needs to be addressed.
Marine Captain Katie Petronio is one of the few women who have completed the Infantry Officer Course, and she thoroughly establishes her credibility, writing in the Marine Corps Gazette, "Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal!". Petronio's argument focuses on the physical limitations of women during prolonged combat operations and the long-term effects of the physical damage that result from the constant stress placed on the human body in combat.
I wholeheartedly agree with Captain Petronio's assessment. I didn't put my body through half of what she did, and I was still among the countless female soldiers who had to push through severe stress injuries my entire time in service. I will probably suffer the long-term consequences of these stress injuries for the rest of my life.
On the other side of the argument, Kayla Williams, writing at Slate.com points out that "Our Boots Have Been On the Ground." Combat, she notes, is pretty much just another day at work for many female soldiers. The most important take-away from the article is this: once you are out on the ground in a unit, the same men who told you that you didn't belong there suddenly care a lot more about your skills and a lot less about your gender. When women are integrated into combat units, there comes a point where your gender is the last thing anyone on that team cares about.
I don't know how many soldiers have spent months on end in the field with no showers, but I know more than one female who spent weeks-on-end building patrol bases from the ground up, sleeping in the center of a circle of trucks, within shooting distance of the nearest town or village. I have lived out on a patrol base with no running water; my personal hygiene was taken care of using a water bottle and a washcloth until I could make the next refit at the nearest Forward Operating Base. I've slept in the same quarters with the men on my team. I know of entire MP units that integrated their sleeping quarters.
While I am a proud combat veteran, I now realize I am among a hidden class of ghost soldiers. Some of my sisters whom I served with in Iraq never made it home. And while we walked in the footsteps of the soldiers before us through fields laden with Improvised Explosive Devices, wearing tags that identified our religion along with our names, it seems our country has no idea we were there.
It is important to ask what putting women in combat will do to unit cohesion, and to examine how it will affect the mission, but we don't have to hypothesize the answers. All we have to do is ask the men and women who have already been there, done that. If you're not among them, I don't care what uniform you're wearing, please step aside and let the soldiers who have lived it be heard.
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.