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Women moving into front-line combat positions in military

Posted May 21, 2014

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— With about 18 months until a Defense Department deadline that the U.S. military open front-line combat positions to women, some female troops at Fort Bragg are already training with combat-ready units.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered in January 2013 that "unnecessary gender-based barriers to service" be eliminated by 2016. Any branch of the service that fails to do so must provide a reason and seek an exemption.

The Army opened 33,000 combat positions to women this spring and is studying training and other issues to best prepare as the deadline nears, according to officials.

At Fort Bragg, Pfc. Kaitlynne Hardy trains with a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) crew, blasting rockets that can take out enemy positions 10 miles away.

"I think it's awesome. It's, like, the best choice I ever made," Hardy said recently.

First Lt. Emily Pohl is a platoon leader in the 3/27th Field Artillery Regiment. She hopes that filling a combat job that used to be restricted to male soldiers enhances her military career.

"Career-wise, it's providing a really great opportunity, kind of as a launch pad, and I kind of have a better understanding of the battlefield," Pohl said. "I think it's a pretty neat opportunity, especially since we get to pretty much help pave the way for females to come."

The hard sell right now is for military leaders to convince seasoned combat veterans that women can accomplish missions under fire – just like their male comrades.

"I don't foresee that it will change our mission at all," said Capt. Andrew Champion, HIMARS battery commander. "Our mission will continue to be to provide rocket and missile support ... anywhere in the world on any short-notice deployment, and whether that's with males or females, it makes no difference."

Not everyone is so sure.

Marine Capt. Katie Petronio, who was inadvertently drawn into combat during two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette in which she detailed the physical toll combat took on her and how it hindered her ability in the field. She said she suffered weight loss, muscle atrophy and a spine injury that resulted in infertility.

Although Petronio said she understands that each woman's body may break down at a different rate, she said on a recent "Fox and Friends" show that she feels combat is an unnecessary risk.

"My concern that I point out in my article is that there are gender-specific medical concerns that are going to come with opening up these fields," she said. "I'm not so sure we've really thought about (that), and there's going to be a cost associated with these medical conditions."

Such concerns don't dissuade service members such as Air Force Staff Sgt. Cassandra Napolitano-Romero, an airborne weathercaster who's ready jump into combat with male soldiers while wearing equipment that weighs more than half what she does.

"I'm ready to do it. I mean, that's why I came to do it," Napolitano-Romero said. "I wanted to see how far I could push myself, especially as a female."


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  • "Screen Name-8/20" May 23, 2014

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    As a woman who served believe me, a woman in uniform has to be twice as good to be considered even half as good as a male soldier, and that's a shame!!!

  • "Screen Name-8/20" May 23, 2014

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    I am a Woman Marine who served from 69-72, and thought I'd heard every excuse in the book for why women didn't belong in combat, when that's just what we joined to do.

    Where'd you get the idea a pregnant soldier and her unborn child would come home in a body bag??? For the period of her pregnancy, that woman would get a medical waiver.

    Plus, pregnant women die on the front lines in men's wars nearly every single day - the difference is, they're called civilians.

    So what's the diff!?!

  • "Screen Name-8/20" May 23, 2014

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    Why outrage when a female soldier dies in battle? It's not only what they signed up for, it's what most of them have been "called" to do - just like the male soldiers.

  • Obama-in-2016 May 22, 2014

    I believe women will do just as well, if not better than men on the front lines.

  • Forthe Newssite May 22, 2014
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    While I wouldn't want to sign up for this, I have no problem IF and only IF the women can do everything as well as the men-or better. No exceptions should be granted. Same training all the way down the line.

  • iknowjack May 22, 2014

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    What evidence do you have to support the ridiculous notion that pregnant women will be sent into combat?

  • Mike Berthold May 22, 2014
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    139 have already died. What is the magic number that triggers this outrage? This equates to 2% of the casualties in the war on terror and is exactly the percentage they make up of forces on the ground there. They are already making the same contributions and sacrifices yet no one seems to notice (with the exception of the fanatical "only a mans game" crowd whenever an article like this comes up).

  • Mike Berthold May 22, 2014
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    So the 139 women soldiers that have already died in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't count or were they just not in the "combat arms only" body bags to trigger this outrage?

  • ohmygosh May 22, 2014

    How will the public respond to a pregnant women and her unborn in a body bag. Can't happen? Guess again.

  • carrboroyouth May 22, 2014

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    140 female soldiers have already died in Iraq and Afghanistan...