Military leaders formally lifted the ban on female soldiers serving in combat positions Thursday with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey announcing the change.
Soldiers and veterans’ reactions to lifting the ban were mixed when the Coastal Courier conducted an informal survey of their opinions Friday during the lunch hour. Five retired soldiers all declined to comment except to acknowledge that they were retired soldiers and disagreed with the policy decision. They did not want to give their names or their opinions, although one man did say it was a “different Army” than the one he served.
Opinions about the ban differed most according to whether the soldier or veteran served in the infantry, Rangers or Special Forces units.
“If they want to come into the military, I don’t see why they can’t serve in combat-arms units,” said Sgt. 1st Class Albert West, a field artilleryman who trains National Guard and Reserve soldiers.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Miskevish, a tanker.
Few female soldiers were willing to respond and those who did differed.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Sgt. 1st Class Lashell Williams, who said she worked her way up through maintenance, where she started as a welder and now is a maintenance supervisor. “You see a lot of females who want to do it. As long as they can actually do it, I think it’s OK. But there are a lot of things males do that females can’t do.”
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Williamson, who works in transportation with the Georgia Army National Guard, sees no reason to limit female soldiers from doing what she said they’re already doing.
“Women are already serving in combat roles,” Williamson said, grinning. “I’ve already been asked 10 times if I’m going in a sapper unit. I think it’s good. As long as you can do the job, it shouldn’t matter.”
Williamson said her husband also is in the National Guard and serves in a sapper unit. Sappers are combat engineers who specialize in destroying enemy fortifications. They also lay, detect and disarm land mines.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Courdin, an infantryman with the Georgia Army National Guard, emphasized that lifting the ban to allow women to serve in infantry, Rangers and Special Operations units had to ensure there was no lowering of standards. Courdin was the only infantryman willing to respond to survey.
“If they can uphold the same physical standards of infantrymen, same physical training, same road marches carrying the same equipment, I think it would be OK,” Courdin said. “I still see a lot of logistics problems though, like sleeping arrangements. Are you going to have males and females sleeping together? If you separate them, that’s an additional security issue you have to address.”
Courdin acknowledged that females have been serving “outside the wire” in Iraq and Afghanistan, referencing Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the West Virginia National Guardsman who became an Iraqi prisoner of war in 2003. Regarding whether women can carry the infantryman’s 50- to 75-pound rucksack and other weapons and combat equipment or stay on their feet all day and night for long range patrols, Courdin said he’s not so sure.