Front line females


Veteran Betty Inskeep of Hubbard said the decision to lift the ban on women serving in ground combat has been a long time coming.

“A woman has just as much right to fight and die for her country as a man does, and if they choose to go into that line of work and can handle it, more power to them,” said the ex-Marine who was present during an attack in 1979 on the U.S. Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan.

The Pentagon’s longstanding prohibition against women serving in ground combat ended Thursday when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that most combat roles now will be available to female soldiers and Marines.

The decision to upend the rule that has been in place since 1994 came on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, joined Panetta in signing an order that will open hundreds of thousands of front-line jobs to female service members.

“We’ve already had women who ‘work in classified combat jobs’ and have already been killed and injured over there. They’re already out there doing it, they’re just not classified combat,” Inskeep said.

Women soldiers who drive military vehicles can run into improvised explosive devices – roadside bombs – which is just as lethal as being in ground combat, she said.

Approximately 14 percent of those actively serving in the U.S. military are women, a total of nearly 1.47 million, according to information from the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard reported as of late 2011.

“I’m a combat veteran, so this is something that touches home,” said Herman K. Breuer, former Army sergeant and deputy director for the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission.

“I was in a military unit that was field artillery … it was all men. You didn’t have the distractions of anything socially that you would perceive that might be a problem,” he said, explaining that the social dynamic will be the biggest challenge with women and men serving together in ground combat.

“I think that they would be physically and mentally capable, but I think that you can’t say that there would be no social impact.

”In other words, you have a man and woman fighting in a fox hole or in a combat vehicle … the relationship that develops between that man and woman could impact how they complete their mission,” Breuer said.

“When you’re in combat, you have to maintain a level of focus that you don’t normally have to maintain throughout the rest of society. If they do have some sort of social relationship, whatever that structure is, that can cause some problem or issue on the front lines, and that’s the only thing that I would be fearful of,” he said.

Still, Breuer said he doesn’t object to the ban being lifted, as long as everyone who is placed in combat is held to the same standards and is capable of doing the same things physically.

Samantha Zigler, 17, a junior enrolled in Trumbull Career and Technical Center’s ROTC program, said the lift of the ban gives women more opportunities to prove they are equal to men.

“If a woman is physically fit enough to carry a male off the battlefield, she should be able to,” she said.

She said she doesn’t foresee any social problems with men and women fighting together “because in the military, you’re trained to keep your personal and your work life separate.”

TCTC ROTC senior aerospace science instructor Lt. Col. John Miller said Panetta’s announcement did not come as a surprise.

“The more good people you can have in a given job, the stronger the service is, and the better for the nation,” he said. “I think it will give our program graduates more opportunities. We have had female graduates who were interested in the ground combat … they feel they should be able to do any job that they are qualified to do.”

Miller said he doesn’t foresee any changes to teaching methods as a result of the ban being lifted.

TCTC ROTC junior Briana Radcliffe, 17, said she doesn’t know whether she will decide to serve in ground combat, but she’s glad she has the opportunity.

“Some people believe that fighting is for guys. But for action in combat, I think women can stand up to the same standards as men,” she said.

TCTC ROTC senior Jacob Rowe, 18, said, “As long as they meet the standards of the military – the discipline standards, physical standards and leadership standards – then they shouldn’t be refrained from the position if they’re qualified.”

Each military branch will devise its own plan as well as be allowed to seek exceptions if officials believe certain positions should remain closed to women.

“This is the right decision,” said Congressman Timothy J. Ryan. “For many years, (women) have been serving and in many cases dying for their country. They have proven that women can do the job – and now have more opportunities than ever before.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.