Unlike World War I, World War II and the Korean War; wars including and since Vietnam have been unconventional. The wars since Vietnam have not had the “traditional” front line that we became familiar with during the world wars and Korea. U.S. military women have served close to the untraditional “front line” in the Gulf War, war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan. In today’s wars the front line could be anywhere. We remember when Jessica Lynch was kidnapped in Iraq. And she wasn’t even near what could be described as an ever changing front line that is constantly modified during today’s battles. Lynch was transporting supplies with her unit in 2003 in Iraq. She was captured when her weapon jammed, raising questions about where women were being assigned. Her exploits, including the ensuing rescue, were widely publicized. But there have been many women involved in hazardous duty. Air Force Major Shawna Kimbrell was the first female African-American fighter pilot. According to F-16.net she logged more than 170 combat hours in the cockpit. About 70 of the Air Force’s 3700 fighter pilots are women. Kimbrell, who flew her first combat sortie in 2001 during Operation Northern Watch, said, “The sorties were actually anti-climactic until I realized people were shooting at us.”
Ever since Operation Desert Shield in the early 90s, women have been prepared to pull triggers and pack weapons. What is not commonly known is that women have been trained to use weapons like the M-24 sniper rifle and assigned as snipers. They are firing these weapons alongside their male counterparts and of course, they are being shot at. The women are trained to do the same thing male snipers are trained to do, hit a two-inch target at a distance of 600 meters with 90 percent accuracy.
A Pentagon spokesperson announced Feb. 9 the implementation of new rules opening up thousands of additional jobs closer to the “front line” for military women. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the new policy will open up positions in the military for all who are qualified to serve. The proposed new rules are under review by Congress. The rules will be implemented later this spring unless Congress decides not to pass them. The announcement from the Pentagon coincided with the 69th Anniversary of female Marines. Earlier this month 50 female Marines from the National Capitol Region traveled to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. to honor the anniversary. The trip’s purpose was to honor the history of female Marines. It served as a learning tool for females of all ranks and experience.
Sgt. Maj. Laura Brown of Quantico Marine Corps Base said, “It was a celebration of women Marines’ history. It’s important for people in leadership positions to pass the information they have to the next generation. That way they understand why we chose to stay 20-30 years.” Brown said there are only so many presentations you can give, or museums you can visit. “It’s better if you go see real, live history, people who have walked the walk.”
The Pentagon’s new rules still wouldn’t allow women to serve in infantry or armor units on the “front line” or in Special Forces. But it could still allow them to be in medical, intelligence and police units or act as communications officers. “I feel that every woman in every branch of service volunteered to be where she is today. We all have gone through basic and advanced training courses that have prepared us for combat just as the training prepared the men for combat. We are required to maintain our proficiency with weapons throughout the year. The military branches shouldn’t ask the men to do anything they wouldn’t ask us to do. We should be treated the same,” said Army Specialist Four Susan Smith who is assigned to Fort Belvoir.
As politicians campaigning for election in November continue to make their preference known, the debate rages on among members of Congress and other politicians. Everyone is anxiously waiting to find out whether or not the Pentagon’s proposal will become law. “The Marine Corps does a really good job of not treating us like woman Marines; at the end of the day, we’re just Marines,” said Brown.