DoD debates lifting ban on Women in Combat but not Gays

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Even as the Pentagon, Congress, and the Obama administration spar with one another in a debate over gays serving openly in combat, the DoD has shifted the debate trying to focus on lifting the ban on women in combat.

The continuing occupation of Iraq and escalation of war in Afghanistan is putting so much pressure on our ground forces that in light of the recent announcement by the Navy to allow women on submarines,  and the realities of women actually being in combat in or near our ground troops, have now led to calls to lift the ban on women in combat.

Given we have no draft, it appears that the Pentagon is grasping at straws in order to provide the pool of bodies it needs for ground combat missions that have nothing to do with women serving on submarines.

However, the debate over women in combat relates to the debate over gays in the military to the point where neoconservative commanders have openly challenged their Commander-In-Chief on the issues of how to provide the pool of people necessary to sustain the occupation of Iraq and further escalation into SW Asia.

These debates would be downright funny, if they were not so informative. For example, the Bush hold overs in the Pentagon are now openly challenged their Commander-In-Chief’s policies or policy formulation something that would not be tolerated during the Bush administration.

The sooner the Democrats and Obama administration clean house of military commanders once loyal to G.W. Bush and the Republican Party  at the Pentagon the better Democrats will fair come November 2010.

Robert L. Hanafin, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, VT News

Wars force US military to review ban on women in combat

According to Agence France Presse (AFP), US commanders are taking a second look at policies that bar women from ground combat, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thrust female soldiers into the thick of the fight.

Army chief of staff General George Casey told Congress last week that it was time to review the ban in light of how women have served in the two wars.  His comments came as the military unveiled plans to lift the ban on women serving in submarines, an all-male bastion that navy officers once insisted could never change.

Despite a policy designed to ban women from units engaged in ground combat, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed women in battle with insurgents who do not operate along defined front lines.  As a result, women have earned medals for valor and praise for their mettle.

[Same can be said for gays who remain in the closet, and will be said. VT Editor’s comment]

John Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, told AFP that his “best combat interrogator was a woman Soldier, my best tank mechanic was a woman Soldier,” however he also admitted that, “Getting the two women in the [combat]  unit required “a little paperwork sleight of hand,” as the rules formally barred them from that role, said Nagl, president of the Center for New American Security, a think tank founded by members of President Obama’s transition team.

The Wall Street Journal reported back in November 2008 that when then President-elect Barack Obama released a roster of his transition advisers many of the national-security appointments came from the ranks of the CNAS. The Co-founder of CNAS, Michele Flournoy, was “one of two top members of Mr. Obama’s defense transition team and…likely to be offered a high-ranking position at the Pentagon. … Wendy Sherman, co-head of the Obama State Department transition team, also served on the CNAS board of advisers and was expected to land a high-ranking post [in the new Administration]. Richard Danzig, a former front-runner for defense secretary, was also on the think tank’s board of directors. Susan Rice and James Steinberg, both of whom were on Mr. Obama’s short list for national security adviser, serve on its board of advisers.”

VT Editor’s comment: CNAS would be to President Obama what the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was to President Bush – a conservative defense and National Security think tank with strong ties to the Defense Industry and Corporate America.

Nagl said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a watershed for women in the US military, and that policies written in the 1990s will have to be rewritten to catch up with the realities on the ground.

“I believe it’s time we take a look at what women are actually doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and to look at our policy,” General Casey told senators.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has yet to weigh changing the policy but his press secretary, Geoff Morrell, acknowledged that despite the rules, “effectively many women in uniform are in combat missions every day, be they helicopter pilots, be they medics, be they logistical support personnel…” [Once again the same can to said about gays in the military. VT Editor’s note]

Pentagon Military Leaders think Women in combat OK – Gays no if they are women or not.

Even as the military signaled a willingness to break with tradition when it comes to women’s roles, Casey and other top commanders have voiced apprehension and even outright opposition to allowing gays to serve openly. At a senate hearing, Casey questioned if now was the right time to be repealing the ban on gays when the armed forces were under strain of two wars.

[His logic toward lifting the ban on women and lifting the ban on gays shows not only desperation to find the right kind of bodies for combat but just how much a pool of combat ready people has become scarce. VT. Editor’s comment]

Commandant of the Marine Corps challenges President Obama

The head of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, openly broke with President Barack Obama over the issue, saying changing the current law on gays in the military could jeopardize “military readiness.”

Advocates for Lifting the Ban on Gays use arguments for allowing women in combat

Advocates of lifting the ban on gays point to women’s experience in the military to bolster their arguments.  They say similar objections were raised in the past about women serving alongside men, but that the military’s order and discipline did not break down and that women’s contributions only strengthened the force.

The performance of female soldiers in the 1990-91 Gulf war helped prompt an earlier wave of reform, opening the way for women to serve in combat aircraft and naval warships.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to have the same effect, said Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center. Commanders want the most talented people for their units, “and they’re asking why do we have these old rules,” she said.

Future policies should set “gender-neutral standards,” focusing on the skills or physical strength required for a military job instead of assuming no woman could meet the criteria, she said.

VT Editor’s Note: Ms. Campbell’s bio indicates that she is a lawyer with years of experience in woman’s legal issues, and woman’s studies in general, but she has never served in the Armed Forces and has no noted experience in Women in the Military.

Sending women to battle remains a sensitive issue, however, and some lawmakers in Congress have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to reassert limits.

Right-leaning commentators question whether mothers in uniform, particularly single parents, should be sent in harm’s way and separated from their children, even if they volunteered to serve.

VT Editor’s Comment: I believe this is a typo that should have said left-leaning commentators question for the sensitivity of sending mothers in uniform, particularly single parents, into harms way IS NOT a right-leaning or solely conservative concern but has been a long running concern of liberals and the Peace or Anti-War movements none of which are right leaning.

What is watching Mommy go off to war doing to some of those children?” author Mary Eberstadt wrote in Friday’s Washington Post.

Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother, attracted headlines when she refused to obey orders to deploy to Afghanistan, because she said she had no one to take care of her baby boy. She faced criminal charges initially but was eventually discharged.

Advocates of women in combat say such cases are rare, and that the military requires all parents to have firm plans in place for their children before they deploy — or else leave the force.

[VT Editors comment: if the military requires all parents to have firm plans in place for their children before they deploy or else leave the force then why did this woman’s Army unit try to discipline her? She and every other women or man in this situation should be able to leave the force rather than be harassed to the point that media pressure forces the force to act ethically and morally].

More than 220,000 women have fought in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 120 of them have been killed in the conflicts, according to the Pentagon.

Ending the ban on ground combat will come sooner or later, Nagl said, as it is “simply recognizing a truth that’s already been written in blood and sweat on the battlefield.”

VT Editor’s note: Ending the Wars of occupation and revenge in Iraq and Afghanistan would make the desperate need to lift the ban on women or Gays in combat irrelevant and a mute point although I am for lifting the ban on both women and gays in combat.

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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.