None of us wants to be told we can’t do something because of age, race, religion or sex.
Not when we know we can do it as well as anyone else – and we can prove it.
Yet there are those who would tell women they may not serve our nation in combat even when they perform as well as needed.
They say this even after the nation’s Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in January that women may serve in combat.
When I was a young federal prosecutor in New York, I worked with DEA Special Agent Michael “Scotty” Gray. We’ve remained close friends ever since. Scotty risked his life in the streets of New York and many other places in “undercover” investigations, fighting “the white death” that he said we fought together to stem the tide of heroin and cocaine trafficking that overran the City’s poorest sections and the most vulnerable of its citizens.
But Scotty was and will always remain first and foremost a “Semper Fi” Marine who believed you “train” as you “fight.” And he knows a lot about both.
His first overseas duty was in 1969 in ‘Nam, 3rd Marine Division, 11th Engineer Battalion (I Corp) as a platoon commander in the Quang Tri Province (Dong Ha and Cua Viet). His family was military. His mother had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in World War II; his father had enlisted in the Marines as well in World War II.
Scotty said “[m]y long standing chauvinistic predisposition was crushed when mobilized to HQMC in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm” and “I worked for a female US MC Colonel who was outstanding in deed, thought, hard work and she was laser-focused toward mission accomplishment.”
“Infantry trained female Marines,” Scotty said, “have met with great success in the current war environment as a viable cultural ‘bridge’ into the Muslim world.”
Of course, there was precedent for Iraq and Afghanistan.
One good example occurred during “Operation Just Cause” in Panama in December 1989. Army Captain Linda Bray faced combat when securing Panamanian Defense Force Installations but her action was not recognized as combat because, get this, she was not legally allowed to be in combat, and so it didn’t “officially” happen.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, women got to show what they could do and to demonstrate their heroism on battlefields that had no clearly definable front lines – and this time they had to be “officially” recognized.
In the ten years of combat operations in those twin theaters of war, 283 thousand women were deployed, 800 were wounded and 130 died.
Last year, in 2012, there were still 20,000 women serving in Afghanistan.
Women were “officially” recognized for heroism and two women earned Silver Star medals, the nation’s third highest medal for valor.
One occurred in April 2007, when Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown, 19, a medic, from Lake Jackson, Texas, ran though insurgent gun fire after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees in the Eastern Paktia province. She shielded five wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away. She saved those soldiers’ lives after having dragged them for 100 or 200 meters away.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, of Nashville, Tennessee, had earlier earned a Silver Star Medal for her gallantry during another convoy ambush in Iraq.
The evidence was mounting.
In June, 2012, Marine Staff Sergeant Nanette Lugo, from Long Beach California, was assigned to the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion with the 1st Marine Division. For 70 years, this had been an all-male bastion. This assignment signaled the Defense Department’s reversal of the 1994 Pentagon rule barring women from assignments in infantry, artillery, armor and other combat roles before the Secretary’s recent announcement.
When Defense Secretary Designate Chuck Hagel recently testified at his confirmation hearings and said, “I will work with the service chiefs as we officially open combat positions to women,” after the Defense Secretary’s January announcement, Hagel was acknowledging, by using the term “officially,” that women had already fought and died in combat.
By allowing women in front-line combat positions, the United States is following the example of other nations that have done the same including Germany, France, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Eritrea and North Korea.
Tammy Duckworth, recently elected to the U.S. Congress, was flying a Blackhawk Helicopter in Iraq in 2004 when she lost both her legs in an attack.
In a recent interview, Rep. Duckworth reportedly said, “If I still had my legs, I would be in line for a battalion command.”
The standard, she said, for front line combat is can you carry the 80 pound pack, drag 200 pounds dead weight and, are you “willing to lay your life down for this nation, [and] then I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, black, white, yellow, male or female.”
Who can argue with that standard for anyone’s service in combat?