By Don Branum
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
U.S. AIR FORCE ACAD-EMY, Colo. (AFNS) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s Jan. 24 announcement he would lift restrictions on women in combat positions has stirred up quite a bit of discussion.
Anyone who wants a stronger U.S. military should welcome the lifting of combat restrictions and what that change means for readiness and diversity within the armed forces.
It’s important to note a couple of key facts: First, women have been involved in combat since well before the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks. Second, Panetta has made clear he does not expect the services to change the physical requirements for demanding jobs such as Air Force pararescue, Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets or other special operations programs.
One name comes immediately to my mind when I think of women who have seen combat: 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte, a 2006 Air Force Academy graduate who was killed in action while deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009.
Less recent names of note take a bit more digging, but they’re not hard to find:
Retired Col. Martha McSally, a 1988 Academy graduate who flew in support of Operations Southern Watch and Enduring Freedom;
Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, a 1996 graduate who flew in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom;
Lt. Col. Kim Campbell, a 1997 graduate who took part in air operations over Baghdad, Iraq, in April 2003.
While the physical requirements for pilots differ from those for many special operations career fields, flying in combat carries the significant risk of being shot down and either killed or captured.
More importantly, the strategy of asymmetrical warfare popular with the Taliban and al-Qaida doesn’t recognize “combat roles” or front lines. Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson and Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch were assigned to the Army Quartermaster Corps, but that didn’t stop Iraqi army forces from ambushing their convoy in March 2003. Johnson and Lynch were taken prisoner and later rescued, while Piestewa was killed.
Still, Panetta’s decision isn’t without controversy. On the Air Force’s official website, “Brandon” from Miami writes, in part, “Men are naturally hardwired to protect women even if it is with our lives.”