Commentary

January 30, 2013

Opening combat positions for women essential to diversity, future AF

Tags:
Don Branum
U.S. Air Force Academy

First Lt. Roslyn Schulte, 25, died from wounds suffered from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan May 20, 2009. Seen here in her senior class photo, Schulte was a 2006 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. She was the first female Academy graduate killed in action while supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s Jan. 24 announcement he would lift restrictions on women in combat positions has stirred up quite a bit of discussion.
Anyone who wants a stronger U.S. military should welcome the lifting of combat restrictions and what that change means for readiness and diversity within the armed forces.

It’s important to note a couple of key facts: First, women have been involved in combat since well before the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks. Second, Panetta has made clear he does not expect the services to change the physical requirements for demanding jobs such as Air Force pararescue, Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets or other special operations programs.

One name comes immediately to my mind when I think of women who have seen combat: 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte, a 2006 Air Force Academy graduate who was killed in action while deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009.

Less recent names of note take a bit more digging, but they’re not hard to find:

  • Retired Col. Martha McSally, a 1988 Academy graduate who flew in support of Operations Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom;
  • Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, a 1996 graduate who flew in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom;
  • Lt. Col. Kim Campbell, a 1997 graduate who took part in air operations over Baghdad, Iraq, in April 2003.

While the physical requirements for pilots differ from those for many special operations career fields, flying in combat carries the significant risk of being shot down and either killed or captured.

More importantly, the strategy of asymmetrical warfare popular with the Taliban and al Qaeda doesn’t recognize “combat roles” or front lines. Army Spec. Lori Piestewa, Army Spec. Shoshana Johnson and Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch were assigned to the Army Quartermaster Corps, but that didn’t stop Iraqi army forces from ambushing their convoy in March 2003. Johnson and Lynch were taken prisoner and later rescued, while Piestewa was killed.

Lt. Col. Martha McSally stands with her A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. McSally, a 1988 Air Force Academy graduate, is the first female pilot in the Air Force to fly in combat and to serve as a squadron commander of a combat aviation squadron.

Still, Panetta’s decision isn’t without controversy. On the Air Force’s official website, “Brandon” from Miami writes, in part, “Men are naturally hardwired to protect women even if it is with our lives.” Notwithstanding the fact that service members are trained to protect any of their fellow brothers or sisters in uniform, I’ve yet to see any scientific evidence to corroborate Brandon’s assumption.

The decision could also help solve a long-term problem: the lack of diversity within the Pentagon’s top ranks. According to a 2009 Defense Manpower Data Center statistics, fewer than 10 percent of general officers across the services are women, even though women made up 16 percent of the active-duty officer corps.

It took nearly 65 years from the day Esther Blake joined the Air Force until Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger (a 1980 Academy graduate) became the Air Force’s first four-star general. A big stumbling block has traditionally been a lack of combat experience, but you can’t get combat experience if you’re not allowed to serve – and lead – in combat roles.

That wasn’t fair to women, so Panetta fixed it.

As James Hill of Columbia, Tenn., wrote on the Air Force website, “As a 32-year veteran, all I have to say is, go for it. In my 79 years of life, I have learned that women can be tough as nails. I saw my son … make a pararescueman, and I know his daughter is as tough as he is.”

People are going to worry about unit cohesion anytime something happens to change a unit’s composition. It was true for racial desegregation in 1948; it was true when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011, and it’s true now. People even get nervous about new unit commanders or permanent changes of station.
It’s easier to make up reasons for change-related anxiety than it is to admit you don’t know what might happen. But if past experience is any indication, the armed forces will be just fine.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines August 1, 2015

News: Marine F-35 jets deemed ready for combat – A small batch of the highly anticipated – and much criticized – F-35B Joint Strike Fighter jets have been approved for combat by the U.S. Marine Corps.   News: Reports: China to sell J-10 fighter to Iran, Syria? – Iran is rumored external link to be buying 150...
 
 

News Briefs August 3, 2015

Russian military helicopter crashes during air show, one dead A Russian military helicopter crashed Aug. 2 during an aerobatic display, killing one of its crewmembers and injuring another, the Defense Ministry said. The Mi-28 helicopter gunship was part of a flight of helicopters performing aerobatics at the Dubrovichi firing range in Ryazan region, about 170...
 
 
Army photograph by John Andrew Hamilton

Improved Multiple Launch Rocket System tested at White Sands Missile Range

Army photograph by John Andrew Hamilton A Multiple Launch Rocket System with an improved armored cab fires a training rocket during a test. The rockets were simple training rockets and not equipped with a warhead, but still gen...
 

 

Missile Defense Agency, Raytheon demonstrate SM-6’s new anti-ballistic missile defense capability

In a first-of-its-kind test, the U.S. Navy fired a Raytheon Standard Missile-6, intercepting and destroying a short-range ballistic missile target at sea. The successful U.S. Missile Defense Agency test proved a modified SM-6 can eliminate threat ballistic missiles in their final seconds of flight. “SM-6 is the only missile in the world that can do...
 
 

Northrop Grumman-developed stealthy data link validated as combat ready with U.S. Marine Corps

the U.S. Marine Corps achieving F-35B initial operating capability, the Multifunction Advanced Data Link waveform developed by Northrop Grumman has been proven a key combat-ready capability of the F-35 Lightning II program. MADL is a high-data-rate, directional communications link that allows fifth-generation aircraft to communicate and coordinate tactics covertly. During testing of the Lockhee...
 
 

Lockheed Martin technology helps pilots, UAS operators share data, stay safe

As Unmanned Aircraft Systems take to the skies, it is essential for safety that UAS operators and pilots are aware of each other. To help provide this shared situational awareness, Lockheed Martin has deployed the first components of a UAS traffic management system that is available to the UAS community now. Lockheed Martin’s online Flight...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>