Through My Empirical Lens
Photo via Los Angeles Times
This week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the final barrier for women in our armed services. On Thursday Panetta signed an order at the Pentagon which lifted the ban on women joining men in ground combat units, a move which according to the Los Angeles Times will create over 230,000 combat jobs for our ladies in uniform. This step towards equality hasn’t come without a contentious debate, fueling mountains of comments on blogs and news articles all across the internet. Many of the comments celebrate this historical decision, but there were many more casting doubt about sending our daughters, mothers, and sisters into the menacing teeth of war.
One of the most common questions posed by readers was whether or not women can really handle the stress and reality of combat? Personally, I think if women can survive the stress and reality of childbirth, I’d be willing to nominate them for at least a purple heart for enduring an experience men can only begin to fathom. Any woman who is able to run the gauntlet of both basic and specialized military training successfully has earned the right to join their brothers in arms.
Will they be able to lead men in combat? The answer, they already have. The Seattle Times had a chance to catch up with Linda Bray this week, a former Army Captain who became the first woman to lead men in combat during the invasion of Panama in 1989. According to the Times’ article, Bray and 45 soldiers went toe-to-toe with Panamanian Special Forces. Bray led her platoon on an attack which killed three enemy soldiers and overtook the barracks being held by the Panamanian’s, eventually confiscating a large cache of weapons. Instead of being awarded a combat commendation, Capt. Bray was berated by her superiors for making a quick decision to lead her soldiers into the fray.
Capt. Linda Bray, Photo Via The Seattle Times
One argument which caught my eye by an individual on a particular news site was that men wouldn’t be able to handle the site of “women being blown to smithereens”, and “our male soldiers will put themselves at unnecessary risks to save female soldiers.” This comment concerned me because many of our soldiers today have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD after seeing their male companions killed in action. I have not, and thankfully will never find myself in combat. But I’d like to think if I ever was immersed in the frightening fog of war, the last of my concerns would be the sex, creed, and race of the man, and now, woman next to me.
The men of our military have made unnecessary, yet harrowing risks to save the lives of their brethren throughout our nation's long and bloody history of warfare. The 3,459 recipients of the Medal of Honor stand as testaments to that ultimate sacrifice. In case you were wondering, one of those recipients was a woman. In an article from the Armed Forces Press Service, Mary Walker volunteered as a nurse in Washington’s Patent Office Hospital during our nation’s Civil War, eventually becoming the first woman doctor to serve with the Army Medical Corps. The Army awarded her the military’s highest honor for her wartime service tending to soldiers not only at battles in Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia, but remaining faithful to her duties while a confederate prisoner of war for four months.
To the ladies serving in our armed forces today, I’d like to commend you for earning a right that has been a long time coming. Thank you for your willingness to serve our country, and I wish you all the best of luck and safety I can. Somewhere in the depths of time, I’d like to think "Rosie the Riveter" is flexing her arm in satisfaction just for you.