In a remarkable, and in this writer’s opinion, long overdue decision, the military has decided to open all combat jobs to women.
This issue spurred a feverish debate when I worked in the United States Navy Women’s Policy Office in 1986-1988, when the Navy made the decision to allow women to serve on ships. The issue was hotly contested, and in a bold move, Admiral Mike Boorda, then the Chief of Naval Personnel, supported our office in its move to push the issue. As a result, women could serve on Naval vessels, and it was shortly thereafter that the decision was made to also allow them to fly airplanes, then to serve on combatant vessels, then combatant aircraft, finally submarines, and now in all jobs. The other services went through the exact same kinds of evolving strategies as they had to balance the numerous competing forces influencing the issue; everything from where they would go to the bathroom to what would happen if the enemy captured a woman.
The argument that keeping women out of combat fields would somehow keep them safe flies into the ridiculous when you allow them to fly tanker aircraft or other logistic support functions which would be the first targets of an enemy.
The bottom line is that women have been in combat for centuries, leading battles both with weapons and with wits. Esther with her wits in the Bible, Queen Boudica with her army of 100,000 against the Romans. Women have served, disguised as men in our own nation’s history as well as the history of other nations. They also followed their men into battle in support, and have been casualties of war throughout history, all without pay, recognition, benefits, rank or status. The argument that keeping women out of combat fields would somehow keep them safe flies into the ridiculous when you allow them to fly tanker aircraft or other logistic support functions which would be the first targets of an enemy since without the fuel the fighter falls into the sea, and without the logistic support the army fails to function.
Today, the military is a well-respected, honorable, and fulfilling career for both men and women, and yet until this historic decision, women were still second class citizens. Today marks the moment when the military can truly recruit, train and promote the best of the best, without regard to gender, and can utilize the best person in the best job regardless of where they go to the bathroom.
Many are unaware that there is a memorial to women veterans, of any and all eras of our history, in Arlington National Cemetery. It is a profound testament to the courage of women through the ages, and tells the stories of hundreds of thousands of courageous women who answered the call of their country to fight on its behalf.
The women who make the decision to join the military, just as I did, know that they will encounter the entire spectrum of responses from peers. There will be those who respect them, those who ridicule them, those who trust them, those who exploit them, and those who abuse them. They will rise to the challenge, and they will succeed. From this day forward, the old boys club is gone, and each soldier, sailor, airman, marine and coast guard member will earn his or her own stripes, his or her own bars, on his or her own merit, and not on the basis of genitals.
Claire Bloom, a retired Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, is the founder and volunteer Executive Director of End 68 Hours of Hunger (www.end68hoursofhunger.org) Her military awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal (five awards), the Navy Achievement Medal (two awards), has a Master of Science degree in Strategic Intelligence, and has received numerous civilian awards.