Skip to comments.Do US women belong in the thick of the fighting?
Posted on 05/29/2005 11:13:11 AM PDT by Crackingham
Maggie Williams and her daughter Sam Huff had much in common. As a teenager 35 years ago, Ms. Williams joined the US Marine Corps and became an air traffic controller, directing jet fighters and helicopters in Vietnam as the war there was winding down. Back in the United States, she began a career in law enforcement, married a police officer, and raised a family.
When she was just 16, Ms. Huff told her parents she wanted to join the US Army right out of high school, and later start a career with the FBI. She toughed out boot camp last year and then joined a military police unit driving Humvees through the mean streets of Iraq. But there the mother-daughter similarity ends. On April 18, Pfc. Huff's Humvee hit a roadside bomb in Baghdad, and she was killed. Posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, she was buried at Arlington National Cemetery recently. She was 18.
As Memorial Day approaches, one might say that Maggie Williams and Sam Huff are bookends for the history of women in the US military in the modern era. As a marine, Williams did a job that was very traditionally male. Huff - the 37th (and latest) American woman to be killed in Iraq - epitomizes the current debate over whether women, even if they volunteer, should be fighting alongside men. Congress has been debating the issue this week. Some lawmakers want to assert more congressional control over Pentagon policies that have opened up more and more jobs to women in recent years, including those that increasingly put them in the thick of the shooting. Of the 37 women lost, 25 were from hostile causes such as rocket or grenade attacks, ambushes, and roadside bombs.
In a way, the job expansion is a pattern that has occurred since the Vietnam War: Women demonstrate excellence in such positions as fighter pilot, military police officer, and heavy equipment operator, and then are more likely to have perilous assignments - particularly during a recruiting shortage. Some welcome the opportunity; but some do not, according to surveys of women in uniform. Here, too, the changing nature of war seems to accelerate the pattern.
"Modern wars will be fought 360 degrees, which means women will be on the 'front lines' whether the Congress likes it or not," says retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a military analyst with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington.
Though many servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq have children, it is the mothers in the war zones who seem to raise greater concerns. (Army Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, the first American woman to be killed in Iraq, left two small children to be raised by their grandparents.) Until recent years, if a woman in uniform got pregnant or adopted a child, she had to leave the service. Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., says his parentsare a good example of what happened in the past. His father was an Army colonel who served with Gen. "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell in China. His mother was an Army major on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff during the occupation of Japan. They met in Korea and married.
"Some time later I was conceived and Mom got the boot, even though she appealed her involuntary retirement all the way to the Senate Armed Services Committee," recalls Dr. Thompson.
While the general trend toward more rights for women in the United States has advanced steadily in recent decades, those gains aren't necessarily exportable - particularly in wartime. Waging a counterinsurgency war in one of the world's most traditional societies is a reminder that American values cannot be the only factor shaping military policy, says Thompson.
"The first lesson of effective counterinsurgency is respect for local peoples and their cultures, so this could become a test of American flexibility," he adds.
"This is one case where it may not be feasible to honor American values and those of the people we propose to liberate at the same time," he says. "Our attitudes toward gender equality and relations between the sexes may simply be too different."
Illustrating this point is an Army Reserve unit based in Richmond, Va., which will soon go to Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers. They will leave behind some 20 female drill instructors because of such sensitivities.
"I understand each culture has different morals and customs, and I have to respect that," Staff Sgt. Stefania Traylor told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "But on the other hand, it's quite different from our culture, so I do have a problem with that. If you are getting experience, knowledge, and guidance from an individual, it shouldn't matter whether you are male or female."
Those who argue otherwise note the physiological differences between men and women - for example, the upper-body strength necessary to operate some heavy weapons effectively or to pull a fallen comrade out of harm's way.
"To pretend that women would have an equal capability of doing that is a dangerous philosophy, and lives could be lost as a result of it," says Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and one of the most outspoken critics of current military policy on women in war zones.
"Roadside bombs are being considered combat and thick of the fighting. It isn't."
Right, exactly. This young woman (may she RIP) was doing police work, not fighting in combat.
The terrorists in Iraq are blowing up children and housewives and old men, lots of people who would never be considered for combat duty. They basically are killing our military by happenstance in cases like this.
I think you're right. The author seems to have an agenda that he doesn't really want to reveal.
yes they are....
it will get better for the Iraqis. They have their own military again. They have their pride again.
We are a military family and I seriously question the issue of women in the Military.
something really smells about this article. maybe its because I just don't agree with it, based on Experience...
Amen! Dicking around on the MSR is "in harms way." Taking the fight to the enemy is combat. Very few engage in combat. As for her bronze star - for what? Because she died? I know a guy who is being put in for a Bronze Star, because he saved the lives of at least 70 people when he engaged a car bomb and a suicide bomber, before they could attempt to push through the breach, during a major attack against a patrol base. The two do not compare - not even close. Handing out medals in such a loose fashion degrades the accomplishment of people who actually earn them.
My thoughts on women in "combat".
Nice to see someone agrees with me.
I don't think women should be in the military either,except as auxiliaries as they were in WWII.
I think women belong in the courtroom,the boardroom,and the operating room but not in the military.
I don't even think they should be firefighters or police officers either but I'm really dating myself with that opinion.
By the way,I'm a woman.
Me too!!! And well put.
well I won't comment about medals. I dont know the entire situation....
Personally, she did die in the service of the country and if they can give it to her for something she actually did, I am all for it....
I don't know if that's true. One of the first lessons of effective counterinsurgency is a good understanding of local culture* -- that's different from "respect."
I don't think the point is trivial. The way Muslims barbarians mistreat women is directly related to the way they mistreat each other (and the Western world) in other ways. If we can show them a different way for men and women to get along we're teaching them a lesson about how to act more civilized.
* The relevant Special Operations Imperative says, "Understand the operational environment," and that includes culture. It doesn't really say anything about "respect."
so then answer me on #13 then please....
No I don't want the draft. We are just going to have to learn to fight a leaner more efficient kind of war. BTW one of our boys is working on a project for the Navy that will do just this.
It is true that feet do have to be on the ground. I just don't want it to be Mom's. My Husband is former military, so I am not completely in the dark about how things work.
I do appreciate the work that you are doing in Iraq.
I am not there anymore....
Here is the deal, most women are not going on patrols and certainly are not going on combat patrols. I did not see ONE female at ANY checkpoint in my time there, especially in Baghdad.
Quite a few where in MI, support and MP roles well away from the sweep and clear parts of this war. However, terrorists would fire rockets and mortars at us all the time. I was a non-combatant over there....it just doesn't matter...