Women moving into front-line combat positions in military
Posted May 21, 2014
Fort Bragg, N.C. — 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."