Women in Combat: Advancement in Equal Rights, not Equal Standards


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently signed a memorandum ending the 1994 ban on women serving in combat. Women can now fight on the front lines. This has now been seen as a giant leap forward for progress in equal rights. From the outside looking in, this seems like an advancement in equality that should be celebrated. What does this equality stand for and what will it bring?

Pfc. Rachel Schmitt joined the United States Army in 2009 and deployed to Iraq as an active duty soldier.

“Since we have women in the military, we have track records which we can look at of problems of deploying women,” said Schmitt. “Nothing is going to change the fact that women’s skeletons are smaller, or that we have 20 percent less lung capacity and 40 percent less muscle mass.”

There might be equal rights to die on the battlefield but because the standards are lowered, Schmitt said, “we don’t have equal opportunity to survive. If the military was really serious about equality, they’d say, ‘OK today you all have to meet the men’s standards, no changes.’ But they don’t do that, because they know we’ll lose about half our women from the military.”

“The standards that are expected of women are dramatically lower as opposed to [the standards expected of] a male,” said Sgt. Joseph Riley, who served two terms in Afghanistan. “The standards are set as criteria for survival. So if the standards for women are lowered then the chance of survival is also lowered.”

Today the women’s physical fitness test consists of longer times for timed runs and arm hangs instead of pull-ups.

“If I were to be shot in a combat zone while under fire and we needed to get to safety, I would be very nervous having a female carry me, plus a full combat load, to safety,” said Riley. “I would much rather have a male do it.”

Although this issue has grown to a national attention level, it is not but a small minority of women who are pushing the issue. The “G.I. Jane’s” who want to participate in combat will be seen in the following years to come.

“In my company of 90 people, I have three females who want to strive to be in combat. I have trained to be a gunner for the last three years of my Army career and I have a female who came to me last week who said she wanted to be a gunner,” said Riley. “To be honest with you, I have 100 percent faith in her.”

There are lots of honorable roles that women can fill in the military, but most of the problems are with the deployments of women.

“Women leave the battlefield three times more often than men,” said Schmitt. “Seventy four percent is due to pregnancy. Do you want your platoon sergeant to suddenly have to leave the battlefield?”


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