Yesterday I watched a workmate with 22 years in as a USMC officer put in his retirement papers as a protest against the fact that the ban was lifted on women in combat.
Part I, above, is my experiences in the training command, back in 1981, as I went through the transformation from a naive Midwestern girl who knew very few people in the military to an officer, in fourteen painful weeks!
This part expands on my statement in Part I that the prohibition of women in combat was not going to remain forever.
I didn’t expect it to be lifted so soon, but I did expect it to be lifted.
Now, can I recommend to my young civilian friends who are females (or males uncertain in what they believe about combat) that they enter the military for a career?
This post will answer that question.
I now believe there was one period in U.S. history, from the time the service academies opened to women in 1976 until just now in 2013, that a woman could enter the military with an understanding they she probably would not go into combat, but yet expecting that she would be taken seriously on a parallel career path to her male colleagues that involved everything else the military had to offer.
That was a pretty good deal but one that could not last forever.
I graduated high school in 1976 and could have been in that first class of women attending the U.S. Naval Academy for college.
Only I wasn’t thinking about that then. I went on to a state university in Michigan and only thought about the military five years later, when I graduated from college during a recession that hit the auto industry in Michigan very hard.
I checked with Army, Navy, and U.S.A.F. recruiters, then settled on the Navy, as they guaranteed me officer candidate school and follow-on training in a compatible field for me (if I survived officer training!).
At the time, women did not deploy on combatant ships, only support ships. And people in my career field did not deploy on support ships. So, by a weird catch-22, I was not eligible to be on board ships at all, initially. I later served for two weeks on a cruiser as a reservist.
What I did do was deploy overseas with a patrol squadron (land-based) for the first three years of my career. I went to Spain (Rota), Iceland (Keflavik), the Azores (Lajes), and Bermuda.
And everywhere I went, I worked inside an aircraft hangar, in an office, with a skirt on.
In fact, it turns out that the only time I worked in slacks in a 27-year career was during my initial officer training and for those two weeks onboard ship.
Did I plan it that way? No. Do I believe women should only wear skirts? No (that is just who I am–I don’t project that on anyone else).
Remember, I was the naive Midwestern girl. My career worked out in spite of me sometimes.
But it truly was an amazing time to be on active duty as a woman. I was born ten years after Israel became a nation again. That means in the Post World War II Baby Boom. And World War II had first brought women into the services as auxiliaries. WAVES, the Navy called them. They were not intended to be full officers, nor to be permanent officers, but they filled some Navy jobs so that men could concentrate on combat.
Not because men were thought to be cannon fodder. But because men were thought to be stronger physically and more able to handle combat. If women did some of the office jobs, they freed the men up in wartime to handle the enemy directly.
That concept of freeing men up by doing office jobs away from combat areas continued post-World War II. It is the concept that was understood when I entered the military in 1981.
Today, that concept seems antiquated. But it must be taken as the intermediate step it was. No woman entered the military in my generation thinking of men only as combat-worthy grunts, nor intending to deprive them of anything by taking office jobs.
But our realm slowly expanded and eventually involved jobs where women were taken POW as early as 1991, in the first Gulf War.
Once that became a reality, the ban on combat for women could not last forever.
In insurgent wars and irregular warfare, women were already venturing across the “front lines” without even knowing it.
Thus I know women in all four services who have already been in combat areas. Navy, too, as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have both used Navy folks to augment our ground forces from the Army and the USMC.
And, that being the case, the combat ban needed to be lifted.
Now, would I recommend the military for a young woman nowadays? Or a man unsure what he believes about combat?
No, don’t come in unless you are prepared to possibly go into combat.
Right now we are saying women can volunteer for those positions. But that is due to the fact that there are currently more than enough volunteers for the infantry in both the Army and the USMC. That will probably always be the case. But that can’t be guaranteed either.
It is a custom and a convention, not a law in either service. And customs and conventions can change, as you have just seen in my description of my career.
Within one generation, we will be like Israel, expecting women to go into combat without batting an eyelash. And there are certain women who are just as tough as any man around (or tougher in some cases!!!) who will jump on this and perform admirably.
But for those like me who want to serve their country as an analyst, in a skirt, working for the Department of Defense as a civilian should now be your goal.