I am a former Army officer, Tillman Scholar and combat veteran. I received my commission through the University of Arizona’s ROTC program. As a young lieutenant I believed that women should not serve in combat units for all of the same reasons we are used to hearing; physical ability, unit cohesion, rape, capture, etc. I actually wrote a paper on it once. However, as most of us know, actual experience vs. theory is what often changes one’s opinion.
Once in combat my opinion changed as I witnessed all of my seemingly legitimate reasons fall to pieces one by one; they just never materialized. I expected to see combat units fall apart once a woman was attached, I expected to see women fail physically on the combat field and get men killed, I expected to see women raped when captured, I expected to see men flee a post or duty because a woman was in danger ... none of it happened, none of it. Experience trumps theory every time, and when it does, intelligent humans must begin to change their mind.
I am about 98 percent sure I could not have rose to the physical standard to serve in a combat unit, and I was in very good physical shape. I am not sure I would have wanted to .... maybe? However, there are women who can, I know them, have served with them, and that opportunity for promotion and extension of one’s career, should be extended to them. I guess we will see, won’t we? Many will try and few will be able to, and there will be a lot of injury and a lot of adjustment but we will see, won’t we? We cannot fail to at least offer equality to women in the military. Our military has and must continue to take risk. We are taught as officers that in order to crush your enemy one must take risk; so let’s just see how it all shakes out.
Ponder this: right now there is a senior cadet at West Point or in ROTC who will likely spend her entire military career in a combat branch, and will be promoted to the general officer ranks accordingly. Panetta’s decision is life altering for women in the military, a little scary for some men in the military, but mostly it seems that talking heads and politicians with absolutely zero combat experience are the ones with all the “reasons” that women should not serve in combat units.