Women have served alongside men for decades in the U.S. military – with certain boundaries. But late last week, the Defense Department made new policy changes allowing women into direct ground combat units.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta overturned the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Assignment Rule, which prevented women from being assigned to units with the sole purpose of direct combat.
This follows a decision made in February 2012 when the Defense Department opened 14,000 new ground combat unit positions to women. Panetta regarded this as a “successful experiment.”
According to the department, women represent 15 percent of armed forces, and about 200,000 women have served in various supportive positions in the recent wars in the Middle East.
To some, this move comes as no surprise. The front lines are not clear in the volatile Middle East, and women have found themselves in deadly ground combat situations. More than 800 have been wounded, and 152 have been killed, as of last year, in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Lt. Col. Joseph D. Kelly served with women for more than 15 years during the span of his military career. A professor of military science in Florida A&M’s Army ROTC program, Kelly ran convoys in Bosnia and fought in Afghanistan, where he witnessed women in gunfights and some pulling men out of danger.
“I’ve seen women in combat do some amazing things,” Kelly said.
He also explained that the process for implementing the recent changes is not clear. These changes will go through a series of approvals until the defense secretary makes the final decision.
“Whenever the Army does things like this, they take very careful steps,” Kelly said. “They study the changes. And a lot of people aren’t happy with the changes, but they’re incremental. People think it’s automatic.”
Cadet BrionÃ© Lewis, a senior pre-physical therapy student from Dallas, is one of approximately 100 women in FAMU’s Army ROTC program. She believes the changes the military is making are excellent.
“It shows that women have come a long way,” Lewis said. “At first, they weren’t able to vote; let alone be in the Army. This just shows that women can do just about anything that men can do.”
Star Manning, a junior U.S. Marine veteran from Los Angeles, was involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has close friends who faced fire during convoy missions.
Manning believes this decision will not hold any significant changes in military operations because women have long since been involved.
“It’s about time,” she said, “It’s kind of like, ‘Oh OK, now you guys decide to catch up.'”
Manning believes everyone plays an equal role in the nation’s defense, regardless of his or her military branch and gender.
“At the end of the day, a Marine is a Marine and a soldier is a soldier,” she said. “A seaman is a seaman and an airman is an airman. At the end of the day, you’re a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and we all swore to protect the country.”