Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Women are in combat they just don't get the recognition

A long AP story surfaced on Sunday.  It was about women in the military and interviews.  It was problematic and that may have had to do with the interviews themselves.  (This was not a study, this was not a poll).  AP did a better version of the story with a short item which ended with, "For the record, plento f men don't want to be in the infantry either."

At Jezebel, Katie J.M. Baker did a nice critique of the long AP article and a rebuttal to it which included:

There are two main (and excellent) arguments for why women should be allowed to serve in combat roles. (They're outlined well in a federal lawsuit that was recently filed by the ACLU on behalf of several military women.) The first is that, in many cases, they already are: in Iraq and Afghanistan, battle lines were unclear and insurgents popped up everywhere, so many women who technically held support jobs ended up targeted by bombs or involved in firefights. Women also helped elicit information from local women who didn't feel comfortable talking to men. The second is that combat service jobs have more prestige than most other positions and lead the way to promotions. Women can't move onto higher-ranking positions if they can't get grab onto first rung of the ladder.
This exclusionary policy isn't only discriminatory and unfair, especially given that many women are already doing the requisite work to warrant the titles and promotions, but it's also hurtful for women who don't want infantry roles. What happens if only men are in power? Massive sex scandals like last year's Lackland debacle, to start.

Whether policy is changed or not, women in the US military will continue to serve in combat.   As Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, observed in a Committee hearing July 14, 2009:

Senator Patty Murray: Dr. Hayes, as you know, the military currently bars women from serving in combat.  We all know, however, that in today's wars there is no front line on the battlefield, we know that women are serving right along side of male colleagues and they are engaging in combat with the enemy.  But unfortunately the new reality of this modern warfare isn't well understood here at home including by some in the VA. This knowledge gap obviously impacts the ability of women veterans to receive health care and disability benefits from the VA.  What are you doing, Dr. Hayes, to ensure that all VA staff -- both in the VHA and in the VBA -- are aware that women are serving in combat and that they're getting the health care and benefits that they've earned?

As Murray noted, women are serving in combat and by refusing to officially recognize that, these women have to struggle for VA benefits that they have every right to.  November 27th, the ACLU announced they were representing four service women and the Service Women's Action Network..  In the press release announcing the lawsuit, Service Women's Action Network executive director Anu Bhagwait explained that the ban was damaging to issues such as pay and advancement within the ranks, "Combat exclusion is an archaic policy which does not reflect the realities of modern warfare, the values which our military espouses, or the actual capabilities of our service women.  Rather than enforcing a merit-based system, today's military bars all women regardless of their qualifications from access to prestigious and career-enhancing assignments, positions and schools, and is thus directly responsible for making servicewomen second-class citizens."

There is also the issue of the 'exclusion' preventing needed training that can leave women struggling to catch up when they are forced into combat.  Matthew Hay Brown (Baltimore Sun) spoke to Iraq War veteran Staff Sgt Jennifer Hunt (who is part of the ACLU lawsuit) about that:

Hunt's job on those house-to-house raids was to search any women and girls they came across. Not having trained with the teams, she says, made the work more dangerous.
"The infantry operates together," she said. "Then I get kind of dropped in on them, and I don't know what their operating procedures are. If 'X' happens, what is their reaction to it?"
The 28-year-old Gaithersburg reservist, who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq, is one of four servicewomen suing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to end the long-standing policy that excludes women from serving in direct combat.

The combat 'exclusion' can also lead to a lack of recognition of the women who are part of the fallen in today's wars.  Joel Mathis (Philly Post) notes:

You probably didn’t notice when Brittany Gordon came home from Afghanistan in a body bag. It happened in October; the Army specialist, a 24-year-old died in Kandahar of wounds suffered in a bomb attack. And you may have overlooked the news a few days earlier that Sgt. Donna Johnson, a 29-year-old member of the 514th Military Police Company, was killed in Khost when a Taliban suicide bomber attacked her joint U.S.-Afghanistan patrol.
Even if you pay close attention -- or try to -- to such matters, you probably even missed the names of Tamarra J. Ramos, Kimberly A. Voelz, Jennifer M. Hartman and Ashly L. Moyer, all Pennsylvania women who are among the 146 women (at least; numbers vary by source) who have died serving the U.S. military since 9/11.

There are so many ways in which women are harmed by the policy that excludes combat service for women while the practice is women are in combat.  Last night, the editorial board of the Fayetteville Observer weighed in noting, "Meanwhile, in 21st century warfare, a battleground can appear spontaneously and there is considerable likelihood that there will be female soldiers in it. That is a compelling reason why women soldiers and Marines deployed to war zones should have better and more extensive combat training than they have in the past. Women may not yet be in the infantry, but the role of the foot-soldier has been handed to them anyway. They need to be as prepared as they can be."

The following community sites -- plus Antiwar.com, Susan's On the Edge,  NYT's At War, Pacifica Evening News and Black Agenda Radio -- updated last night and today:

Finally, MediaChannel is gearing up for their relaunch.  Along with Danny Schechter, Rory O'Connor has been an active presence of the website.  This is from O'Connor's "Welcome to America, Al Jazeera" (Al Jazeera):

Al Jazeera - one of the best cable news networks in the world - has always had a tough time in the US. It's long been derided by conservatives here as a "terror network" and propaganda organ. It's been widely denounced by publicity-seeking politicians for airing messages from al-Qaeda.Its reporters have been imprisoned in the Guantanamo gulag for years before being released after having never been tried or convicted of any terrorist ties. Others have been targeted by US forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, shot at, had missiles fired at them, and even killed.
As a result - despite massive lobbying and advertising campaigns - most major cable and satellite television network in the US have refused to offer Al Jazeera's English-language service to their audiences ever since its inception six years ago. Instead, it's clearly been blacklisted and made almost impossible to find on America's airwaves.
Now, in the most American of solutions, the pan-Arab news leader has gone ahead and simply bought its seat at the media table, with the purchase of Current TV, a low-rated cable channel founded by former US Vice-President AlGore and his partners seven years ago. For the relatively small sum of $500m, it has just bought entree into at least 40 million cable-ready living rooms all across the US.

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