Female Veterans In Congress: It’s About Damn Time For Women In Combat

In the summer of 2013, the Obama administration made an announcement that all combat positions (frontline and otherwise) would be available to women come 2016. Now that 2015 is rolling to a close, the impending reality of this act is coming to fruition, and veteran women in politics agree it’s long overdue.

Tammy Duckworth (above) is perhaps the most well-known veteran of the four female veterans in Congress. She’s spoken out a good deal about her 23 years in combat, and the resulting loss of both her legs when her helicopter was tragically shot down. For Duckworth and her peers, it’s beyond absurd it’s taken so long for these opportunities to open up.

“Of course women can serve in combat,” said Duckworth, “I didn’t lose my legs in a bar fight.”

The policy shift only came after an extensive two-year long review of jobs spanning the U.S Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Special Operations Command that have previously only been open to men. Until the policy rolls out on January 1st, a full 10 percent (220,000) of military jobs are still closed off from women, an absurd reality that had Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledging they can’t build a strong force while excluding half of the population from participating.

Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona, currently serves alongside  Duckworth in the House Armed Services committee, and echoes her sentiments of it being goddamn time. McSally was a U.S. Colonel who flew over 300 hours in combat, and the first woman to fly a combat aircraft into enemy territory, back in Iraq in 2005.

Of the long wait for women’s combat opportunities, McSally said Thursday, “It’s about damn time. We are a country that looks at people as individuals, not groups. We select the best man for the job, even if it’s a woman.”

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, served two tours in Iraq as a medical operations specialist, and is presently a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard. She agreed that the change is long overdue, and said that the Defense Department “is finally catching up to the reality of the ways women have been contributing and serving our country.”

Currently, the only female veteran in the Senate is Iowa-born Republican Joni Ernst, who just this week retired after 23 years as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. She also strongly supported the change, qualifying her support thusly: “I support providing women the opportunity to serve in any capacity, as long as standards are not lowered and it enhances our combat effectiveness.”

Which seems beyond obvious — as women in all levels and branches of the military are held to the same stringent physical and mental demands as the men.

The arc of history of women in the military shows huge strides in progress and opportunity, often immediately followed by reform and backlash. The first women were accepted into the U.S. Military in 1901, primarily as nurses. By the 1940s, women were serving in all branches, and by the 1970s, they were allowed to fly planes. It wasn’t until 20 years later, in 1991, that Congress repealed laws banning women from combat. Now, in 2016, women will finally be able to traverse every single position of the U.S. Military, and for that, I salute them.

[The Atlantic]