Today's NYTimes features an evocative opinion column concerning the role of women in combat situations in Iraq -- and by extension, in any war. I fully agree with the author, Catherine Ross (an Army Reservist and veteran of tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2004) that U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) policy lags behind not only the reality on the ground for all American troops, but also lags behind the reality demonstrated by Israel, which has actively recruited women to serve alongside men in combat since the nation came into being in 1948, not to mention a history of women soldiers dating back 4000 years. Despite lingering gender stereotypes, women are just as capable and qualified as men are -- sometimes more so -- for serving in both support and combat roles: as ground troops, as combat pilots, or in any other combat capacity.
Service to one's nation is not gender-specific, in my view. Every citizen should be required to fulfill a minimum of two years' national service -- be it in the military, the Peace Corps, a revived Civilian Conservation Corps, or any constructive equivalent. No exceptions. With regard to combat duty, it is discriminatory and a waste of valuable talent to forbid women from equal participation with men. Like any other MOS (Military Operational Specialty, or job description), soldiers should be selected for combat training based on their skills, abilities and potential, not on their gender.
As it stands today, women in the U.S. military in Iraq (and now Afghanistan?) are called upon daily to fight, regardless of their job title. Commanders on the ground must use the resources available to them. The tragic disconnect is that those same women haven't received the same level of combat training as men, so must operate at a disadvantage. DOD and Congress must act to rectify the situation, revising policy to afford the same training to both genders.
Here is the link to Sergeant Catherine Ross's column. Be sure to check out the embedded videos, one on women in the Israeli military, the other on women in the American military and the inadequate training which they receive. Every man and every woman in service deserves the best training, equipment and leadership. Not everyone is getting it.
Here is a photo of Ross in Iraq.