- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

“I just don’t think America is ready to see a woman without an arm,” said Juanita Wilson, an army staff sergeant who lost her hand to an improvised explosive device that destroyed her vehicle while on a mission in Iraq. Despite this statement, it seems that many in the United States have been coarsened to the killing and maiming of young women and are ready for more of the same. Thirty-five women have died and 271 have been wounded in Iraq.

Sgt. Wilson is one of five American military women at Walter Reed hospital who have lost limbs during combat in Iraq.

The sight of young women maimed in combat will become more common unless action is taken. Military bureaucrats, members of Congress and the media seem to be lusting for a more-women-in-combat policy that could lead to conscripting our daughters if a draft becomes necessary.

Rep. Heather Wilson, a 1980s Air Force veteran and New Mexico Republican, suggests the killing and maiming of young women in combat is now accepted by Americans. She told The Washington Post, “We have gotten beyond the point where losing a daughter is somehow worse than losing a son.”

But Connie Halfaker, the mother of one of those women at Walter Reed recovering from a lost limb, trusted the Army’s promise to keep women out of direct combat and never worried about her daughter going to war, although she told a reporter, “I knew it was a possibility that I would need to give up my son for a war.” Lt. Dawn Halfaker, who lost her right arm on a military police patrol last year in Ba’qubah, Iraq, explained, “Women in combat is not really an issue. It is happening.”

Although President Bush has said, “No women in combat,” the enemy doesn’t discriminate. Insurgents target every American, whether male, female, combatant or noncombatant.

The fact is that the war in Iraq is unlike a conventional war. It is a struggle against well-armed insurgents with no clearly defined battle lines. It is a classic example of guerrilla warfare where no participant is safe.

Today, 15 percent of the active army are women. They pepper the ranks of all but direct combat units. Though as of 1994, women were barred from “units and positions required to collocate and remain with direct ground combat units assigned to direct ground combat missions,” the Pentagon policy actually increases the danger for servicewomen.

Recently, Army Secretary Francis Harvey told Congress his women-in-combat policy doesn’t need to be changed to comply with the 1994 provision. Perhaps, but the Army is assigning women to forward combat companies, which are in direct support of the 3rd Infantry Division’s new brigade combat teams now serving in Baghdad. This potentially makes them increasingly vulnerable to attacks by insurgents.

Even though women are not supposed to serve in combat they do fly Army helicopters in hostile areas. Maj. Ladda Duckworth lost both legs when a rocket-propelled grenade downed her Black Hawk helicopter last fall. Women also serve in multiple-launch rocket, reconnaissance and Stryker units. The line defining combat is getting very fuzzy.

The only way the United States can eliminate women from dying or being maimed in direct combat is to remove them from the battlefield. “That would be politically untenable,” said a powerful congressman to this writer, and besides, it would force male soldiers to serve more frequent combat tours. The Army is dependent upon the large female force to perform global missions.

That fact sheds light on a hard reality. Our Army is straining for more soldiers to sustain operations across 120 nations with more than 303,000 forward deployed. The global war on terrorism is expected to last many years. Even though no one wants to conscript young people, the seriousness of the threat and the military’s faltering recruiting efforts may intersect and lead inevitably to the drafting of women. The legal stage for such a scenario is being set as more and more women become engaged in combat. Conscription has always been an emergency provision to fill the military’s ranks with combatants.

The coarsening of the United States on this issue is pitiful. Our young women are no longer valued as the bearers and nurturers of future generations — they are now interchangeable with men and expendable. I am pessimistic that Congress, which is constitutionally responsible for military personnel issues, will listen.

Congress didn’t listen when it was warned that introducing a small number of women into military units would cause disruption, lower morale and damage unit cohesion. Sexual misconduct in mixed-sex units has become the elephant in the living room for the modern military, but don’t ask the PC brass.

Congress didn’t listen when it was warned that young women have two-thirds the cardiovascular fitness and half the upper body strength of the average man. Our elected representatives allowed the Pentagon to gender norm physical requirements, producing a less ready force.

This nation should be ashamed it has bowed before political correctness and allowed the removal of barriers that protect our young women. There is no compelling national security reason for our daughters to serve in combat. There are many compelling reasons to deny them this deadly “opportunity.”

Robert L. Maginnis is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, a national security and foreign affairs analyst for both radio and television networks, and a senior systems analyst with BCP International, Ltd., in Alexandria.

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