When Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the official repeal of the U.S. Armed Forces’ ban on women in combat, it was clear that, though it would come at a measured pace and perhaps wouldn’t have the most obvious differences, change would come for the 15% of the U.S. military who are women. Today, senior defense officials told the New York Times that women will be permitted to apply and earn a place among the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Marine infantry.
Probably not all three at the same time. Though, should someone ever achieve this, I’d love to shake her hand.
In January, the plan was that the various armed forces would have three years, until January 2016, to examine the 230,000 jobs that had just opened up to female soldiers and determine what changes would need to be made to requirements, training, and facilities before women could be integrated into them without reducing the military’s standards. There was some speculation that after those evaluations, women would still be barred from serving “as infantry troops or in elite special-operations units,” but it’s hard to get more elite than the SEALs, the Army Rangers, or Marine infantry.
As we’ve talked about before on the site: the reason why repealing the ban on women serving in combat is so important isn’t because women in the modern U.S. military were being prevented from fighting. The fact is, they were already being put in combat: more than one hundred fifty women have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve been “attached” to combat units, flown helicopters that were shot down, and accompanied male soldiers so that there would be someone who could talk to conservative Muslim women without breaking local law. What the ineffective combat ban actually did was prevent women from receiving the training and equipment of their male counterparts (because the fact that they would be seeing combat could not be officially acknowledged), and threw huge hurdles in the ability of women to rise to ranks commensurate with their experience and accomplishments (because the fact that they had seen combat could not be officially acknowledged, or because experience with and accomplishments in combat situations are a factor in many military positions).
And it’s hard not to see this as a bit of progress on the fight against sexual assault and rape culture in America’s military. Said General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in January:
We’ve had this ongoing issue with sexual harassment, sexual assault. I believe it’s because we’ve had separate classes of military personnel, at some level. Now, you know, it’s far more complicated than that, but when you have one part of the population that is designated as warriors and another part that’s designated as something else, I think that disparity begins to establish a psychology that in some cases led to that environment. I have to believe, the more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.
I’d add that the prospect that more women would have the opportunity to officially gain the experience that would allow them to reach higher positions in the U.S. military likely means more people in higher positions who have a view of sexual harassment more nuanced then “well what do you expect,” or “lets pretend it doesn’t happen.”
(via The New York Times.)