Previously, I offered some of my own admittedly last century feelings about sending American women into direct, front line combat roles. That sparked a fair bit of discussion, including the submission of a letter from a woman who has seen action in the war and who was surprisingly sympathetic with at least some of my views. But we want to get all sides of the discussion out there for a full airing, and that woman’s letter prompted a response this week from another female warrior who has been out there in uniform, putting it all on the line for us. Her views run contrary to those previously discussed in several areas, but her direct experiences and the eloquent way she expresses them are certainly equally worth featuring here and completely valid. With all that said, I offer the unedited testimony of Nicky Vale without comment.
In response to “Some advice on women in combat from a female veteran,” I too am a female veteran, and there is little in this Marine’s commentary I DON’T take issue with. For starters, I was stationed in both Babil and Baghdad, and I did not just “see the male combat units” while I was in Iraq. I was embedded with them. I lived on a patrol base with them, and I went out on foot patrol with them every single day for months. I was the only woman on the team, and I wasn’t there because someone was trying to be politically correct and wanted to make me feel good about being a woman in the Army. I was there because we have spent the last 10 years fighting two wars with an all volunteer military.
I was a member of a four-man team that was sent out to support a patrol base. I was initially assigned to whatever patrol team happened to need an intel collector until the platoon leader of my patrol unit hand picked me to be on his team permanently. He had worked with every single member of my team, and he requested I be permanently assigned to his unit because he felt I was the best person to get the job done. This is a young man who had done three tours in Iraq by his 23rd birthday who I had originally mistaken for someone pushing his 30’s when we first met. His only concern was getting his guys home in one piece. There wasn’t a single decision he ever made to be politically correct, and he sure as hell would not have allowed me to step foot in his vehicle if he thought for one second my presence would have compromised the safety of his unit.
This young lady makes some valid points, but they are completely overshadowed by her obvious inexperience outside the wire. Her statement is among some of the most damaging commentaries I have read on this subject in the past week because, like some of the other infuriating editorials I have read recently, she establishes herself as a subject matter expert to the civilian population and yet, any female in the Army reading her piece could tell by her second paragraph she is what we call in the military a FOBBIT–someone who has never left the comfort of the FOB.
There are many valid arguments against allowing women entrance into the Infantry, but arguing over whether or not women should be allowed into the Infantry completely misses the entire point of what Sec. Panetta’s decision actually accomplishes. For starters, the “ban” on women in combat isn’t about the Infantry–since military branches are allowed to file for exceptions, it is quite possible and even likely these jobs will remain closed off to women. The term “combat” encompasses a huge range of jobs and positions that go way beyond Infantry, and women have been filling those jobs and have been put in those positions for the last decade. What the Secretary’s decision does, effectively, is recognize the role women have already been playing for the last 10 years.
The physical strength argument is valid, although not for the reasons cited here. I know few men, my husband (also a combat veteran) included, who could single handedly scale a 10-foot wall in full battle rattle, and if this Marine is being told that’s what her male counterparts are doing on the other side of the fence, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell her. Women sustain stress injury at a substantially higher rate than their male counterparts, that is a fact. It is a legitimate concern in this debate, but it hasn’t stopped countless women from serving admirably and putting their own lives on the line for our country which apparently doesn’t even realize that’s what they’ve been doing.
Another legitimate argument is the hygiene argument, but I’m getting really sick of reading stories about marines defecating in plastic bags next to each other (she is not the first one). I have to tell you, I’ve taken care of far worse hygiene issues than peeing in a bottle in the back of a HMMWV while out on mission wearing full battle rattle, so everybody who’s freaking out over where the ladies are going to pee or how they’re going to tend to their cycles need to get over it. Of all the arguments against putting women in combat, this one’s pretty low on the list. Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about hygiene. I just wish service members who never served with women outside the wire, or service women who have never been outside the wire, would stop talking about it in the hypothetical and allow those of us who have actually been in that situation talk about whether or not these things were detrimental to the mission.
There is a really important piece of this entire argument that is being completely overlooked, and that’s the fact that women may not be in the Infantry, but we are already serving in combat, and chances are that when all the exceptions have been filed, and everything is said and done, Secretary Panetta’s decision will be little more than a formal recognition of the present status quo.
I would like to thank Ms. Vale for her valiant, selfless service to our nation. I will also note that she will be having a companion piece published at Patheos in the near future.
When that goes live, I’ll update this piece with a link. Here is the link.
EDIT: (Jazz) With my apologies, corrected the spelling of the authors name in all locations to “Vale.”