Friday, January 25, 2013

Editorial boards and members of Congress weigh in

Yesterday at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey (Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) held a press conference to formally announce a policy change.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: One of my priorities as Secretary of Defense has been to remove as many barriers as possible for talented and qualified people to be able to serve this country in uniform.  Our nation was built on the premise of the citizen soldier.  In our democracy, I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to protect the nation and every citizen who can meet the qualifications of service should have that opportunity.  To that end, I've been working closely with General Dempsey and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  We've been working for well over a year to examine how can we expand the opportunities for women in the armed services?  It's clear to all of us that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military's mission of defending the nation.  Women represent 15 percent of the force, over 200,000.  They're serving in a growing number of critical roles -- on and off the battlefield.  The fact is that they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission.  Over more than a decade of war, they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism. 153 women in uniform died serving this nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight and, yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans.

Liz Navratil and Tracie Mauriello (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) quote Panetta saying, "If they can do the job, if they can meet the standards, if they meet the qualifications that are involved here, there is no reason why they shouldn't have a chance. That's just a fundamental belief of mine, and I think it's a fundamental believe of the American people. Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier but everyone is entitled to a chance."

The editorial board of the Pensacola News Journal points out, "For much of the last 10 years, in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 292,000 women have served in combat zones. That’s more than 10 percent of the nearly 2.5 million we have sent into harm’s way there." Also weighing in is the editorial board of the Sacremento Bee which observes, "With no clear front lines on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, female service members in 'non-combat' roles have already been fighting and dying. They have proved themselves with professionalism and, sometimes, heroism. They have disproved the tired arguments that women would be distracting and couldn't pull their weight. So far, more than 150 have died for their country, about 2 percent of total U.S. deaths."  The editorial board of the Daily Democrat chooses to zoom in on one concerte example of women already being in combat, "Ten years ago Air Force pilot Kim Campbell, the daughter of San Jose's Mayor Chuck Reed, was flying a mission over Iraq when the rear of her A-10 was struck by a rocket. Not known as a Warthog for its grace, the plane wasn't going to glide home -- but Campbell deftly used manual controls to coax it back to her base and a hero's welcome. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross."  Also offering a specific is the editorial board of  New Jersey's Star-Ledger, "Look no further than Tammy Duckworth, the newly elected congresswoman from Illinois, who lost both legs after her helicopter was shot down near Baghdad in 2004. She’s one of the more than 800 servicewomen who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan."  The Green Bay Press Gazette editorial board notes, "Women have died for this country. They have been wounded, fought hard, devoted their lives and their careers to protecting the United States of America."

Let's note some Congressional reactions.  US House Rep Loretta Sanchez's office issued the following:

WASHINGTON, D.C.Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (CA-46), founder and co-chair of the Women in the Military Caucus and the second ranked Democrat and highest ranked female on the House Armed Services Committee, today released the following statement in response to media reports that tomorrow Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will announce changes to the ban on women serving in combat.
"I have been a firm believer in removing the archaic combat exclusion policy for many years.  I am happy to hear the Secretary will be making significant changes as part of an effort to expand opportunities for women in the military. I look forward to hearing the details tomorrow when I am briefed by the office of the Secretary, and to working to implement any changes that will completely integrate women into the military.”
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is proud to represent California’s 46th Congressional District, which includes the cities of Anaheim, Santa Ana, and parts of the cities of Garden Grove and Orange in Orange County.  She serves as Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the second ranked Democrat on the Committee on Homeland Security. Rep. Sanchez is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and sits on the bipartisan, bicameral Joint Economic Committee.

And US House Rep Niki Tsongas' office released the following:

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas released the following statement today responding to news reports that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is expected to announce that he is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat.
“This is welcome news, and coming so soon after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, demonstrates another landmark victory for equality in our military.
“Generations of women have bravely served our country and have set enduring examples of strength, courage, commitment and leadership for future generations of soldiers, male or female.
“Women like Sara Payne Hayden, a resident of Methuen, MA, who served valiantly as a pilot under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.  Sara was a test pilot on previously damaged aircraft to ensure repairs were successful prior to their reintroduction into combat service, a dangerous, but critical assignment in the war effort.  She is one of only approximately a thousand women to have served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots due to the shortage of male pilots.  They were the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft.
“While Sara represents one of the first, many women have followed in her footsteps serving in combat bravely and sacrificing much to do so; more than a hundred of whom have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“As a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and on visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, I have personally met with and heard testimony from countless female servicemembers. Servicewomen are every bit as dedicated to serving our nation as their male counterparts, and it is my firm belief that we must do everything we can to enable them to serve honorably and with distinction.
“The announcement Secretary Panetta is expected to make tomorrow will put us on a path to giving women the same access to the protections and benefits afforded the men they serve alongside.  It will finally acknowledge the reality of the current nature of war, where the lines between combat and support personnel are not clearly drawn.  And, most importantly, it will help us build a stronger armed forces.”

Earlier this week we noted Rachel Kassenbrock (Ms. magazine) reported Wednesday on the news and we'll again note this from her report:

Though this decision is a positive development, it will take time to implement and it remains unclear to what degree Congress will review the decision. As of now, the decision is receiving support from both sides: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), remarked that the decision “reflects the increasing role that female service members play in securing our country.’’ Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, agrees:

[The decision] is a historic step for recognizing the role women have, and will continue to play, in the defense of our nation. In recent wars that lacked any true front lines, thousands of women already spent their days in combat situations serving side-by-side with their fellow male service members.

This is a historic moment.  I'm happy for those who have wanted to take part in combat but were denied and I'm happy for Leon Panetta.  He's really been part of history in his role as Secretary of Defense.  (As disclosed before, I know and like Leon -- I've known him for decades.)  When Wally, Kat, Ruth, Ava and I were at the press conference yesterday, I briefly thought, "Well Leon's got several places in history now."  Thinking of this, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, his time in Congress, etc.  But only briefly because then Gen Martin Dempsey said, "Congress acted first in 1948 by legislating that women became a part -- a permanent part of the armed forces."

I don't pretend to know everything but I usually have at least familiarity with key moments of women's history.  Dempsey's remark had no context for me.  I asked a friend at the Pentagon last night about it.  President Harry Truman, in 1948, started desegregation with an executive order (that would take a few years to become reality).  After that executive order, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act was passed by Congress.  And this is from Women in Congress' profile of Margaret Chase Smith:

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Smith passed her landmark legislative achievement in the House: the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act. With a wartime peak enrollment of about 350,000, women were still considered volunteers for the armed services and did not receive any benefits.12 In April 1947, while chairing the Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Hospitalization and Medicine, Smith passed a bill giving regular status to navy and army nurses—well-accepted by her House colleagues because it covered women in traditional, “angel of mercy” roles.13 When the Armed Forces Integration Act, providing for the permanent inclusion of all uniformed women in the military, easily passed the Senate in July 1947, Smith faced a greater challenge pushing the bill through the House. Opponents on the Armed Services Committee amended it over Smith’s lone dissenting vote, significantly curtailing women’s rights and benefits by offering them reserve status. The House passed the committee’s version. In an effort to restore the bill’s original intent in the conference committee, Smith appealed to her personal friend, Secretary of Defense William Forrestal, who gave her his full backing. Smith prevailed when the House conferees accepted a version of the legislation granting women regular status on June 2, 1948. President Harry Truman signed the bill into law 10 days later, just weeks before he racially integrated the armed forces by Executive Order.

So that's some history and, of course, women's history isn't usally as well known as general history or men's history or niche history, etc.  Just Sunday, Ava and I wrote:

As Dale Spender notes in 1983's Feminist Theorists, "But what all of these women have done has all been done before.  It has 'disappeared'.  So while men proceed on their developmental way building on their inherited tradition, women are confined to cycles of lost and found, only to be lost and found again -- and again."

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