It’s a big deal that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to lift the Pentagon’s ban on women in combat. Plenty of American women have been in combat during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it wasn’t official and they were banned from many jobs within the military. Women can earn a combat action badge (and many do), but cannot earn a combat infantry badge. But how exactly are things now? And what is the change going to mean?
Whether you're inclined to agree with having women in combat or not, here’s some good background reading:
1. The whole NYT “Women At Arms” series is excellent and detailed, but start with this story by Lizette Alvarez about how the combat ban doesn’t mean women don’t see combat.
2. CJ Chivers, whose experience as a Marine shapes a lot of his journalism, wrote about the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course when it opened to women this past summer. Here’s another story on that.
3. Earlier, Elisabeth Bumiller wrote about “female engagement teams” in Afghanistan who reach out to civilian women in remote villages while facing attacks and living at rugged camps the same as male troops. This is one way the rule against women in infantry roles was commonly side-stepped.
4. This recent essay lays out the arguments why women should be allowed in combat. The comments are illuminating.
5. And, here’s the perspective from retired Army colonel who helped shape the modern Army Rangers, on how Army leadership should lead the transition without lowering standards. (Hat tip to my pal Don Gomez for pointing that out.)
6. There are now many female combat veterans, but many don’t self-identify that way. Kate Hoit, who blogged her experience in Iraq in 2004-05 and now works for the VA, looks at the meaning in the word “veteran” and people’s reluctance to see her that way.