Reactions mixed to women in combat decision

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 25, 2013 

The mother of a 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team soldier who died in Iraq supports Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision Wednesday to allow women to serve in combat roles.

"This is what they fight for," said Phyllis Bailey, whose daughter, Spc. Lakeshia Bailey, died in March 2010 in a rollover accident north of Kut, Iraq. "In women rights, we want to be treated equally with the men. I feel if (Panetta) approved it, that is what they are fighting for."

The decision by Panetta means that more than 230,000 battlefront posts are now open to women. Many of the jobs are in Marine and Army infantry units, like the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning.

Bailey of Fort Mitchell, Ala., said her daughter was doing what she loved with the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment. "My daughter fought for her country," the mother said. "It was in Iraq and it was an accident, but she did what she loved."

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, said he is confident the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff weighed this decision carefully and considered the pros and cons.

"They have come out with the conclusion that other countries in the world have already been included, such as the state of Israel," Bishop said. "There is a role for full participation of women in the defense of our country. I think the opportunities that have been denied women because they could not fully function with the military has been unfair over the years."

Giving women the opportunity for combat service and experience adds to their possibilities for promotion and retention for a military career.

"I think it will certainly be another step toward equal opportunity in our military," Bishop said. "Overall, I believe it is a sound decision. If you just look at the last few wars we've been involved, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, you will see that in this day and this era there is no front line.

"As a consequence, our women are already exposed to the same levels of harm that male soldiers are exposed to.

"The IEDs (improvised explosive devices), are being placed in locations that can injure and result in fatalities for male and female soldiers."

Lifting the ban on women in combat has opened the door for a lot of good discussion, said GwenDolyn Ruff, who retired in 2011 as a colonel from the Army Reserves.

"From a personal standpoint, I do support the policy to move forward with what Secretary Panetta said in lifting that ban," she said.

"As military personnel, we all take the same oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and to support our leadership. I think any soldier who is qualified and willing to serve in the front line in that fight should be allowed to do so, male or female."

Retired 1st Sgt. David Lockett, who served two tours in Vietnam as a Ranger, supports the leaders' decision but questioned whether women can perform duties as men in a battlefield environment.

"First of all, the amount of equipment a man is equipped to carry, I wouldn't want my wife to try to lift some of the stuff," said Lockett, who served in the dangerous A Shau Valley and along the borders of Cambodia and Laos.

"The next thing is sanitation problems. I can go for days on end without washing various parts of my body. And I have put my hand in front of my face at night while on patrol and couldn't stand my own breath."

When officials talk about combat, Lockett said that would be open in many ways.

"I'm talking about sustained combat conditions," he said. "Most people are not thinking about it. There is no end to it. It could be days. It could be months."

Lockett supports equal pay for women serving in the military but opposes combat duty.

"I don't think the good Lord made our women to serve that duty," he said. "I wouldn't want my wife to be in that capacity or sister or mother. I'm saying this for myself, I would not want a female in my family subjected to this."

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