Friday, May 28, 2010

Women on the Front Lines

There has been a lot of speculation as to whether women should be on the front lines or not. The fact is, women have already been there and endured. As a combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I served alongside my fellow Marines during the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. Before I share my opinions and experiences, I feel the need to clarify a few things concerning women and warfare.

To start, war is no longer fought "Braveheart-style" with opposing sides running at eachother ready to beat one another to death. Since the need to physically overpower an opponent is practically extinct,the much debated issue of the lack of physical strength of women compared to men is a needless arguement. An M-16 A2 Service Rifle with a 30 round magazine inserted weighs 8.79 pounds and a heavy automatic weapon such as the M-19 or 50 Cal are mounted weapons, requiring only the strength to insert a round into the chamber and press down on the trigger. I can assure you that while most women cannot bench 200+ pounds, we can handle at least 8.79.

When most people mention the phrase "front lines", they assume that is the only hazardous place. While the infantry troops are usually the first to see combat, they certainly aren't the only ones. Convoys were often under attack which as a military police officer (MP), we are tasked to protect them. Is it not just as dangerous being fired at behind the infantry as it is next to them? There are no lines drawn in warfare to let you know where is hazardous and which place is safe.At war in a hostile country, nowhere is safe.

Another largely debated issue is that of women being prone to sexual assault if they become a prisoner of war. Do men honestly think that they are safe from this fate? It is a reasonable fear for both women and men and they should take into account the risk of what can happen before they sign the dotted line to join the service.


While I cannot speak for other branches of service, I'll provide a brief background of my training in the Marine Corps. In boot camp, men and women are trained separately to prevent any distraction from the training. Although separated, the training is identical. We carry the same amount of weight on our backs during marches, taught the same martial arts tecniques, and are taught how to fire the same rifles in the same manner. The same morals, bearing, and pride are instilled in both genders and do equal work to earn the same title of U.S. Marine.

After boot camp, provided that you are not already infantry, every Marine is required to pass Marine Combat Training (MCT), a three week infantry course and yes, this includes women. All marines are trained as warriors first so should the situation arise in warfare even someone with the occupation of a chef can skillfully operate any weapon if necessary. Now you have to wonder why our government and the Marines would bother wasting time, expense, and manpower to train women in the same manner as men if they thought they weren't capable of handling the training or it wouldn't be useful.


In Iraq, our vehicle's primary task was convey security although the occasional enemy prisoner of war (EPW) handling and perimeter security was necessary. Being in a four man humvee crew, each had a different job which we switched out often: Driver, Radio/Comm guy which was in the front passenger, A-gunner with a M240-G (light machine gun)positioned behind the driver, and the Gunner with the M-19 (heavy automatic weapon) mounted on the top of the vehicle. My position was usually either the gunner or A-gunner, so again, you don't necessarily need to be infantry to be in harms way. Instead of the infantry retrograding back to the convoy to resupply like it was planned, we ended up going up to the front to deliver the supplies instead. Convoys did come under fire, and it's the duty of an MP to protect them. Women also played an important role at military checkpoints and were able to check women more thoroughly than a man could for obvious humanitarian reasons.

As the war progressed, many became sleep deprived, hungry and stressed. We all felt the effects of war equally and weren't concerned with who had which anatomical parts, but who could do the job when needed.

When the time came for us to retrograde back into Kuwait, it was a relief to everyone because we all missed home. It was there that we found out just how drastically the war affected some in our unit. Some had to have there weapons taken away do to violent and erratic behavior and extreme depression. The five women in our unit coped amazingly well. Many see women as very emotional compared to men and I see that as an advantage instead of a downfall. Being more in tune with your emotions means that you can keep them in check and work through what your going through a lot easier than if you shut them off and bottled them up. I'm not saying that all women could cope as well as the ones in my company have, I give both the men and women the credit for holding up as well as they did.

When it comes down to it, it's not about physical strength or gender when it comes to talking about who can handle being where in war. It comes down to your basic skills as a service member, a strong positive mental attitude, and emotional endurance to ensure greater chances of success in war. Some women can't handle it, neither can some men. The time to debate the issue of women in war is over because as I stated earlier, they're already up there in the thick of things. Now it's time to accept what is and how we're going to establish ourselves in the future as military members, not men and women. As the Marines put it, "We're all green".

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