By Shelly Burgoyne
Roughly four months have passed since the “ban” was lifted; women can now officially serve in combat units. They can, in theory, enter the Holy Grail of equality in the military – the Infantry. The days that followed Panetta’s announcement were filled with many men and a few women who, barring any facts and little first-hand experience, declared that the inclusion of women in combat arms would be devastating to our Armed Forces. Thankfully, there were more women and men who declared with the compliment of facts and first-hand experience that the change in policy was much overdue and would greatly improve our nation’s Armed Forces. But even with nearly all of our military leaders and soldiers supporting the policy change, I sense a few hold-outs who have dug themselves in, readying for round two.
Almost all General Officers, mid-level officers, non-commissioned officers, as well as the current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel support the new policy. However, it seems that recently and somewhat quietly there has emerged a small group of male General Officers who have begun to assert that there are simply not enough women that have or will volunteer for combat jobs. Their hope is of course, that if there are not enough women who want to be combat soldiers they will be able to justify to DOD that the changes to units and training facilities needed to accommodate women, would simply be too expensive to justify, for so few. To this, Marine Commandant General Amos recently stated: “that if too few women were able, or willing, to join the infantry, I might ask the Secretary of Defense to keep the infantry closed to women.” His deadline for his request is January 2016.
Is General Amos right? Are there hardly any women in the military who actually want to serve in combat units? Is this a myth or is it reality? The two female Marines, who began the Marine Officer Infantry Course at Camp Pendleton before the ban was lifted, dropped out of the course due to injury. However, two more have volunteered to attempt it and are currently slogging their way through it. As a former Army Officer and veteran who is very involved in the veteran community and who still maintains friendships with many active duty officers and soldiers, I have directly observed that there are many (not few) women currently in the Army that wish to transfer to combat arms, many (not few) senior female West Point, ROTC, and OCS Cadets, who wish to officially “branch” into combat arms, and many (not few) of my fellow female officers and soldiers who fought in the same war I did, who would have chosen a combat arms branch as their first choice if it were available to them. So this “myth” that few women in the military actually wish to be combat soldiers is just that – a myth. Many women do, and many are quietly in the process of applying to be part of the first generation of women officially assigned to combat units.
Fortunately for women seeking combat career fields and unfortunately for the few hold-outs who secretly oppose the change in policy, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta laid out a very specific and very hefty legal hurdle that must be breached in order for DOD to even remotely consider banning women from a specific combat field. It seems that this “there are not enough” argument is just not going to cut it. There are enough, but even if there were only one woman who wanted to be an Infantry Platoon Leader, that one soldier should be able to apply, and attempt equal progression in her career and thus an assignment into combat arms.