Retired Army Brig. Gen. Maureen K. LeBoeuf, a helicopter pilot by training who ran the physical education department at West Point, said opponents of putting military women in new positions always raise strength and fitness issues.
“The big argument is always the physical component,” Gen. LeBoeuf told The Times. “There was a time people didn’t think women could go to the academies because of the physical piece. Women have been at the academies since 1976. And they’re absolutely successful.”
Then there’s the specter of body bags.
“The argument used to be that the people of the United States are not ready to see women coming back from war in body bags,” she said. “And the reality is women have come back from war in body bags and women are suffering the same kinds of issues that men have suffered in combat because they are in combat.”
Today, she said, with women showing that they can perform in support jobs in a war zone, taking and returning fire in gun battles with insurgents, now is the time to let them try out for infantry.
“Women can’t rise to the highest ranks in the military because certain specialties are closed to them,” said Gen. LeBoeuf, who serves on a Pentagon advisory committee on women. “Let them into Ranger School. Let them into infantry school. Let them into the armor. I’m confident that there are some women who will be successful.”
She said the same standards for men in infantry school should be applied to women.
“Put them through the infantry officer basic for the officers and infantry course that the enlisted soldiers go through, and see how the women do,” Gen. LeBoeuf said. “Even if there’s one woman, then that woman needs to have that opportunity.”
George Little, spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, told reporters to stay tuned.
“I would like to stress that Secretary Panetta believes that this is the beginning, not the end, of a process,” Mr. Little said. “The services will continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened to women. Our goal is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most-capable people, regardless of gender.”