I am a former Army officer and Tillman Military scholar, a University of Maryland graduate and a combat veteran. I received my commission through the University of Arizona’s ROTC program. As a young lieutenant, I believed that women should not serve in combat units for all of the same reasons we are used to hearing: physical ability, unit cohesion, rape, capture, etc. I wrote a paper on it once. However, as most of us know, actual experience versus theory is what often changes one’s opinion (“Women in combat,” Web, Friday).
Once in combat, my opinion changed as I witnessed all of my seemingly legitimate reasons fall to pieces one by one. I expected to see combat units fall apart once a woman was attached. I expected to see women fail physically on the combat field and get men killed. I expected to see women raped when captured. I expected to see men flee a post or duty because a woman was in danger. None of it happened. Experience trumps theory every time, and when it does, intelligent humans must begin to change their minds.
I am about 98 percent sure I could not have risen to the physical standards to serve in a combat unit, and I was in very good physical shape. However, there are women who can — I know them and have served with them, and that opportunity for promotion and extension of one’s career should be extended to them. Many will try and few will be able to, and there will be a lot of injury and a lot of adjustment, but we ought to at least offer equality to women in the military. We are taught as military officers that in order to crush your enemy, you must take risk.
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta’s decision is life-altering for women in the military and a little scary for some men — but mostly it seems that talking heads and politicians with absolutely zero combat experience are the ones with all the reasons why women should not serve in combat units.