03 October 2006

Women in Combat

[deep breath]

I am so FREAKING SICK of hearing the media simpering about "women in combat." The latest round of this was caused by the loss of 2LT Emily Perez, a West Point standout who was KIA recently in Iraq.

First - condolences to the family of Lieutenant Perez. By all acounts, this was an outstanding woman and a fine young officer. The Army and the country are less for her loss.

Second - CNN, this is directed at you. THERE IS NO LAW AGAINST WOMEN IN COMBAT. None. I will try to explain.

Women may not serve in occupational fields the primary mission of which is to engage in direct ground combat with the enemy. Women may not serve in these UNITS below the brigade level (note there is a difference between "job" and "units" - field hospitals have supply sergeants).

Thus, there are no female infantrymen. None. Nor are there female tankers, artillerymen, amtrac guys, and a few other small and odd jobs. There are no female Rangers, SEALs, Green Berets, or Force Recon Marines. There ARE women in the US Army Special Operations Command(psychological operations and some civil affairs). There ARE women in fields labeled "combat arms" (an example being the females who handle ordnance in the Marine Corps).

There are female admin clerks. Some of them are in, say, the 82nd Airborne. They are Airborne qualified. They jump out of planes. They may serve at the Division level, they may serve at the Brigade level. You will not find them in the infantry battalions or rifle companies.

There are female mechanics, postal clerks, combat photographers, civil affairs specialists, etc etc. If there is a position IN an infantry battalion for one of these people, it will be filled by a MALE. If, however, a small group of...oh, I dunno, say...civil affairs soldiers are ATTACHED to said battalion, or IN SUPPORT of said battalion, there may very well be women.

Let me further elaborate on this one, because it could be confusing. We will use the examples of an infantry battalion and a civil affairs company, because that is one with which I am intimately familiar. There exists a document called an MTOE - this is a Modified Table of Operations and Equipment. One exists for every unit in the military (although they may go by different names). This is the big list of what makes up a unit. If you look at the MTOE for say, an Army Infantry Battalion, it will be a list that would go something like this:
Lieutenant Colonel, battalion commander, 1, 11A;
Major, executive officer, 1, 11A;....
Captain, company commander, 4, 11A;
Sergeant first class, supply NCOIC, 92Y, 1...and so on and so forth.
Now, we know that none of the positions that start with "11," that is, the field identifier for "infantry," will be filled by women. However, NOR will the position of "supply NCOIC." Although there are female E7 92Ys (a lot of them), they may not fill a position on the MTOE of a unit, the mission of which is to engage in direct ground combat with the enemy, below the brigade level. Got that? Now, if Higher, in all its wisdom, decides this infantry battalion needs to be augmented by a civil affairs company, that company has its own MTOE, and no restrictions on where females may serve, as it is not a unit for which the primary mission is to engage the enemy in direct ground combat. Do we have that cleared up? Good.

Of course, there are many non-combat arms units out there. Let's talk about, oh, we'll say...a Division Finance Company. Let's put them in Iraq. Now, they have a mission that is not necessarily to "locate, close with and destroy the enemy using fire and manuever." Of course, they're American soldiers, so they will do this if they must, but it's not why they're there. They are there to do MONEY STUFF.

Of course, part of that involves moving money to outlying camps so the grunts and support folks out there can have cash. So the finance company puts together a convoy. Maybe they can borrow a couple of gun trucks from their local infantry unit, or maybe not. Either way, the finance soldiers are going to be manning a couple of those vehicles. And by manning, I mean provinding a vehicle commander (TC), a driver, and a turret gunner.

There are lots of women in finance companies. Now, enough of these convoys are out rolling around, and one gets ambushed. Some soldiers are hurt, and some are killed. Some shoot back, some provide aid and some call for medical evacuation.

This was combat. The soldiers there are Combat Veterans. The wounded are Combat Wounded Veterans with Purple Hearts. The dead are Combat Losses (also with Purple Hearts). And some of them are women.

Women are in combat. This is indisputable, and this is not a violation of law, or a travesty of justice. The finance company women, the transport women who move materials and go out to retrieve damaged vehicles, female MPs training the Iraqi Police, the postal clerks moving mail. All of these women are being employed in accordance with all applicable law, and all of them can be, at any moment, "in combat."

This is an issue that a lot of people feel very strongly about, and it's even more detailed than I made it sound here (wanna know why you'll find female Marines on helicopters in situations where you wouldn't find female Soldiers? - no, you probably don't).

Like most complex issues, and like absolutely everything involved with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this one doesn't benefit from over-simplification. It's not that difficult to understand, and the media and our government do all of us a disservice when they fail to take the time to help people understand what's really going on.

Lieutenant Perez didn't die doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing. She didn't die because she was employed in violation of the law. 2LT Perez died doing her duty as an Army Officer, and we shouldn't minimize what she gave all of us by pretending her involvement in our national mission was a mistake, or that she was a helpless victim of a big cruel Army.

That is all. Dismissed.