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 January 23, 2015

News: Yemen chaos threatens U.S. counterterror efforts, including drone programĀ - The White House’s strategy for fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen – repeatedly presented as a model by President Obama – was left in tatters Thursday by the resignation of the man who personally approved U.S. drone strikes in the country and the collapse of its central...
 
 

News Briefs January 23, 2015

NATO detects key Russian military equipment in east Ukraine NATO’s top commander in Europe says the alliance has detected the presence of key Russian military equipment in eastern Ukraine that, in the past, has accompanied large inflows of Russian troops. Gen. Philip Breedlove told a news conference Jan. 22 in Brussels that Russian electronic warfare...
 
 
Boeing photograph

Boeing Maritime Surveillance Aircraft ready for demonstration flights

Boeing photograph The Boeing Maritime Surveillance Aircraft program is ready for customer demonstration flights, having completed the baseline ground and flight testing of the aircraft mission systems. The Boeing Maritime Surve...
 

 
Air Force photograph by Jacqueline Cowan

F135 test demonstrates success of AEDC workshare initiative

Air Force photograph by Jacqueline Cowan Aerospace Testing Alliance Test Engineer Darren Carroll, pictured in front, assists as Pratt & Whitney Test Engineer Ronnie Thomas does a borescope inspection of the fan on the F135 ...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

40 years of Red Flag at Nellis

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald A flight of F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons Aggressors fly in formation over the Nevada Test and Training Ranges June 5, 2008. The proposal for Red Flag came in early...
 
 
Lockheed Martin photograph

Navy gears up to order production of 29 aircraft diagnostic systems

Lockheed Martin photograph Petty Officers Third Class Ira Schwartz assigned to Fleet Readiness Center Southeast at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., left, and Devin Riley from Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic at Naval Ai...
 




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=""> <strike> <strong>