By Teresa Welsh |
We no longer have a choice. Fifteen percent of the military is comprised of women. Over 200,000 women have dedicated their lives to serve their country, 20,000 of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the past, my efforts to make this policy change have been dismissed and often laughed at in Congress. In 2010, I proposed language to give the secretaries of the services the authorization to assign service members to units based on the needs of the unit, regardless of gender. This language would have given commanders the flexibility to address the needs of their unit regardless of a service person's gender.
Unfortunately, my language did not pass and was substituted with a report requirement, asking the Department of Defense to simply examine existing policies that restrict female members. This report spurred the Pentagon to seriously consider the new realities of today's battlefields.
As we all know, there is no longer a designated frontline that protects a soldier from being in combat. When a service man or woman is checking vehicles in Afghanistan, and the vehicle explodes due to a car bomb, that soldier is killed in combat. When female soldiers are the first ones to knock on doors in a neighborhood in Afghanistan due to cultural restrictions, they are essentially at the forefront of the mission.
We no longer have a choice but to recognize that female soldiers are in the battlefield and leading missions in nontraditional combat zones.
Until now, commanders were restricted to "assign" women to units below the brigade level whose primary mission was to engage in direct combat on the ground. However, in order to meet the needs of the unit, commanders would, essentially, place women in units that were restricted. The female soldiers would follow orders and perform duties, but would not receive the recognition or credit that they deserved, because it was against Department of Defense policy for them to perform those duties.
This policy has prevented the promotion of female service members, because combat experience is often required for career advancement. These servicewomen have fought in combat, but since it cannot be acknowledged, they are unable to use this experience to be promoted into many midgrade/senior roles.
It is the sacrifice and dedication of the service women that has brought about this historic change. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense believe it is now time to rescind this archaic policy. They believe the current policy not only restricts the department from expanding opportunities for service women, but also fails to recognize that women have and will continue to serve in combat.
We no longer have a choice but to recognize the real accomplishments of female soldiers.
About Loretta Sanchez Democratic Representative from California
Rachel Natelson Legal Director of the Service Women's Action Network
Ariela Migdal Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project
Michael O'Hanlon Director of Research for Brookings's 21st Century Defense Initiative