Pentagon lifts ban on women in combat

heusdensBy Sarah Williamson |
Photo by Sarah Williamson

The cracks in the military’s historic glass ceiling are expanding.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced last month that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on women in front-line positions. This landmark decision reverses a 1994 rule that denies women certain combat roles.

“They integrated the military in 1948, before the South integrated in society. The same thing happened when they began accepting women officers in the military and you began to see more acceptances in society. The military leads the way a little bit,” said 2nd Lt. Laura Wakefield.

Wakefield grew up in central Florida. She dreamed of traveling after college and this is what led her into the military. Wakefield was stationed in Germany from 1977 to 1981, where she became one of the first female officers in her division. Wakefield’s older brother was also enlisted at the time as a sergeant. She outranked him.

Wakefield chuckled when asked about her experience, in a time where a woman fighting in front-line combat was unimaginable.

“It was hard because there were two different expectations, you know, first animosity—sucks you got a woman officer— or hey honey, how you doing?”

The military has certainly come a long way.

Sgt. 1st Class Blair Heusdens, at the Florida National Guard in St. Augustine, is part of the 14.6 percent of women currently in the military. Male officers surround her.

“You can tell that we are a minority, just looking around, especially if you’re in a big group,” she said laughing. “[But] it’s different depending on what kind of job you are dealing with. Some fields are more diverse than others.”

Heusdens, a public affairs specialist, has spent time in Iraq and Guantanamo. Huesdens is the military’s version of an embedded journalist. Overseas she spent time with infantry units, taking photos and telling the soldiers’ stories. Heusdens is not surprised by the lifted ban because she has seen many women already taking infantry positions unofficially.

Further, the Pentagon is vowing to have gender-neutral standards for all jobs in the military. Currently, women are required less push-ups and a slower running speed in the annual physical test.

1st Lt. Ron Berben served in the Marine Corps from 1961 to 1968. He recalls a time when women were called BAMS, short for “broad-assed Marines”. Berben supports gender-neutral standards for infantry positions, saying he has met female Marines tougher than him.

“[It’s] nothing to do with their bravery,” Berben said. “I wanna know if you’re shooting at me and I go down, are you going to carry me out of that field? On the other side of that coin, there may be a small man that cannot carry me down that field. If they don’t lower that bar physically, I don’t have a problem.”

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