- - Sunday, March 3, 2013

I haven’t had the privilege of serving in America’s Armed Forces, and I have never been in a combat zone. But I have seen the horrors of war, and I hate that our commander-in-chief is asking American’s women to make horrible personal sacrifices to appease one of his political constituencies.  

The men and women who serve our country are courageous, honorable and selfless, to understate just a few of their qualities. Their willingness to pay the price of our national defense is admirable. They deploy for many months and work long hours in stressful environments. They forgo the comforts of home and the companionship of loved ones. These are sacrifices too few Americans are willing to make. Yet for those who serve in direct combat units, the cost of armed conflict is even greater.  

In the operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), 6,640 Americans have died. Another 50,000 troops have been wounded, some with injuries so severe their bodies and minds are broken. Combat trauma is common. A 2011 study from the RAND Corporation revealed that 50 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had a friend who was killed or seriously wounded. Another 37 percent had to endure the sight and stench of a decomposing body; and 23 percent were physically impacted by an explosion.

For even the toughest of combatants, such experiences leave a man with dreams that are darker than they used to be. Battle fatigue strains, and sometimes destroys, the relationships troops have with their wives and children. Combat veterans find that their medications have multiplied and their personalities transformed. 

Since 2000, nearly 104,000 service members who deployed to a war zone have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). In the same time frame, over 253,000 troops suffered Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). These figures, compiled by the Congressional Research Service, show that 19 percent of TBI cases (48,539) have a TBI that is classified as moderate or severe. These combat injuries cause anxiety and depression the likes of which most of us can’t imagine. 

There are other injuries that no medication or surgical procedure can correct. After inquiring with the Army Surgeon General, the Huffington Post reported that 486 troops have lost two or more limbs; 2,542 have traumatic burns; and 142 are without an eye. 

Many of these troops are hurting so badly that their wish is for a day – just one day – to be free from the unrelenting pain that refuses them even a moment of peace. When the suffering isn’t alleviated, some combat veterans become suicidal. In 2012, there were an alarming 349 active-duty suicides, a record number. 

These are the horrific wounds of war, and in a craven surrender to a small cadre of feminist combatants, President Obama and former defense secretary Leon Panetta have ordered America’s women to suffer this fate. 

On Jan. 24, Mr. Panetta rescinded Defense Department regulations against women in certain direct combat situations. This will not only allow, but will eventually force, women to serve in direct ground combat units. In his State of the Union address, after demanding passage of the Violence Against Women Act, Mr. Obama endorsed Mr. Panetta’s decision and falsely declared that America’s “sisters and daughters…are ready for combat.” 

A few moments later, he pointed to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, whose impaired speech and motor skills were caused, he said, by the “weapons of war.” Despite his plea that “we were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans,” Mr. Obama is sentencing women to Mrs. Giffords’ fate by forcing them to the front lines. 

Amputated limbs, traumatic brain injury, suicidal tendencies, direct encounters with the   worst of mankind  — are these what Americans want for our mothers and daughters? Are these the dreams to which feminists want young ladies to aspire? 

Women serve important roles in today’s military, and all service members who deploy are at risk, but not every deployed soldier sees combat or serves in a “tip of the spear” unit where the likelihood of a severe combat injury is greatest. 

A common refrain from spouses of combat veterans is, “he just won’t talk about it.” It may be that what they experienced was so awful that it is best to keep it buried and not expose others to it, even indirectly. 

Unit cohesion and physical ability are valid reasons for excluding women from direct combat units. Yet the lifetime of pain and personal suffering many of them will experience as a result of combat should be even more compelling. When the feminist agitators came to him demanding frontline assignments, a more courageous commander-in-chief would have told them that he’d rather fight them in court than visit them at Walter Reed.          

Thomas P. Kilgannon is president of Freedom Alliance and author of “Diplomatic Divorce: Why America Should End Its Love Affair with the United Nations” (Stroud & Hall, 2006).