Monday January 28, 2013

The Burlington Free Press, Jan. 24, 2013

The decision by the Department of Defense to lift the military’s ban on women serving in combat is, at its most basic level, about equality.

Having to send Americans off to war should not be cause for celebration regardless of who is asked to do the fighting.

The fact is, women have been serving in harm’s way for years. The combat ban only served to deny full recognition for the sacrifices women already are making.

In Afghanistan, women have accompanied patrols as medics, military police or as intelligence officers to interact with local women -- a situation necessitated by the culture. The female troops did so without being officially part of the combat unit.

Our recent wars have had no clear front lines, meaning even those in "support" roles may find themselves exposed to the threat of enemy fire.

Just ask the women who served in Afghanistan with the Vermont National Guard.

Despite the history of women serving alongside men in hostile territory, the change in policy represents a major cultural shift for the U.S. military.

How big?

The ban on women in combat is being lifted decades after the end of official segregation in our armed forces and even after the end of "don’t ask, don’t tell," the policy that prevented gays and lesbians from revealing their sexual orientation while serving in the military.


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Under the combat ban, women in the military have been shut out from more than 230,000 jobs based solely on their gender.

The ban included assignments to elite combat units that have been an important step for recognition and advancement to the highest ranks.

In today’s all-volunteer military, assignments should be based chiefly on desire, qualifications and ability.

There’s no denying the male-centric culture that prevails in virtually all things military. A paternalistic reflex might lead to objections about the idea of picturing women in the line of fire. Women are one with the image of the hearth and home men have fought to protect on battlefields.

These are objections built on myth rather than reality.

Lifting the ban will require change, mainly in attitude and outlook both within the military and without. But an explicit recognition of the sacrifices women make on the battlefield will make it all that much harder to dismiss their right to equal treatment throughout society.

People who are unwilling to risk the well-being of soldiers, sailors or Marines on a mission because of their gender might consider whether the mission is worth risking anyone’s life in the first place.