Saturday, March 4, 2017

Women in Combat: "Shoot Like a Girl"

One of the many changes made during the Obama Administration was the end to most restrictions on women in ground combat roles.  To the Air Force, this was not a issue.  women had been in all air combat roles for years.  Indeed, when I was General Counsel of the Air Force, the commander in Afghanistan made this point by having all-female air combat crews in the air one day.  The big change was in ground combat.

One of the factors that lead to the change in policy was a lawsuit by several active women service members who challenged the policy of exclusion. One  plaintiff, Air Force Major Mary Jennings Hager, who flew medivac helicopters has a new book Shoot Like A Girl that describes her experiences in Afghanistan.  NPR has a great interview with her.  Here are some highlights:
In 2009, Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan while co-piloting an Air National Guard medevac helicopter. Though she was wounded in her rifle arm, Hegar managed to return fire while hanging onto a moving helicopter, which saved the lives of her crew and her patients.

At the time, the Department of Defense allowed female soldiers to participate in air combat, but forbade women from ground combat positions. Hegar tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that the rule was often circumvented, which meant that women who served on the ground did not receive credit for combat duty.

.  .  .

On the unofficial ways in which women served in combat in the past
The Marine Female Engagement Team is a great example of that, where they go out and they're the ones who talk to the female locals and have to pat them down if they're going through a checkpoint. That's not something that the culture would allow our male soldiers to do, so there's a need for women in those roles. But because of the policy, they couldn't be assigned to [combat] units, which caused all sorts of problems. ...
They would be what we call "attached" to the unit. They wouldn't get to train with the unit, they wouldn't go home and stay at the same base with the unit, they wouldn't get to know them, they wouldn't get a chance to bond with them. The unit cohesion wouldn't get a chance to form.

On some of the arguments against women serving in combat

They range from concerns that are very legitimate and need to be carefully considered to concerns that are absolutely ridiculous. I think the No. 1 thing that pops up in people's mind is the physical strength issue and whether or not women are physically strong enough to be in combat, which I answer with a couple things: First of all, we've already disproven that that's an issue because there are women serving successfully in combat. Most combat is not a hand-to-hand knife battle that the person who can do the most push-ups is going to end up winning. That's just not the face of modern warfare right now. 
Read it all here.

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