It’s a great step, but the march to equality is yet long.
That was the response of women veterans yesterday to newly released details from the Department of Defense as to how women will be integrated into combat positions previously closed to them in the ultimate old boys’ club.
Under plans submitted to the DOD by different branches of service, the pipeline should open to women to serve as Navy Seals in January 2016. The Army has said it will open an additional 6,000 “male only” positions to women (in addition to 14,000 opened last year) and will have a “decision point” for the elite Army Ranger course on July 1, 2015.
“This is another step in the right direction in opening combat roles to women,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement yesterday. “Women are already fighting and dying for our country shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in uniform on the front lines, but without the formal recognition that is essential for them to advance and obtain the benefits they have earned.”
“We’re being recognized for what we’re already doing,” said Staten Island resident Ann Treadaway, 33, a carpentry masonry specialist who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Eliminating gender barriers will help female military careerists because many elite jobs require combat experience, she explained. While Treadaway performed the same work as the men in her platoon, male “combat engineers” received different training and enjoyed a prestigious title more conducive to advancement, she explained.
“I retired seven years early because of all the stupidity going on in my last deployment,” said Sandra Rolon, 55, who completed 31 years of service in the Army last year and now lives in the Bronx.
The declaration of equality and integration “will take that frail stigma” away and help female officers command the respect they have earned and deserve, but which they are always accorded by male subordinates, said Rolon.
The release comes as the military faces unprecedented criticism for failing to stop an epidemic of sexual assault that many women say has forced them from the ranks.
A Pentagon report last month showed that as many as 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military last year, rarely reported by servicemen and women, who fear reprisals.
Eliminating gender discrimination in military jobs is a great first step, but the problem of harassment and assault must also be addressed via a strictly enforced zero tolerance policy, Rolon and others said.
Women still a minority in the military
As of March, there were 1.387 million people on active duty in the U.S. Military and approximately 204,800 — about 15% — were women, according to the Department of Defense.
About 42,000 women serve in the Army Reserve — 21% of the Reserve’s total strength. About 9,000 of its 205,000 jobs are currently coded “male only,” typically jobs in combat engineering, military intelligence and civil affairs, explained Lt. Col. Matt Lawrence, public information chief for the Army Reserve Command.
As the jobs open to women, the Reserve is attempting to add “cohorts of women” to ease integration, he explained.
“There’s strength in numbers — we're definitely not trying to set anyone up” to fail, he said. Lawrence noted many stereotypically male jobs are already equal opportunity: “We’ve got women Apache helicopter pilots.”
While some have speculated that the shattering of formal gender barriers will increase the military’s appeal as a career prospect to females, Lawrence said such concerns were rarely voiced by prospective recruits. Applicants’ main concern, he said, is “am I going to be deployed?”