Women allowed in combat zones
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 22:02
Last month, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced the military was lifting the 1994 combat exclusion policy, which had prohibited women from serving in combat. The groundbreaking decision will now allow women to serve in combat units alongside men.
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Stinnett, U.S. Army professor of military science for Marshall University's Reserve Officer Training Course, said he agrees with the change.
“The decision wasn’t that big of a surprise for soldiers,” Stinnett said. “The reality on the ground had women in combat situations for years. This is a change in military policy, not in combat reality.”
Each branch of the armed forces is responsible for implementing the policy before a January 2016 deadline. Stinnett said he had not received any official announcements about the Army's plan to implement women soldiers into combat roles.
Stinnett did express that members of the Thundering Herd Battalion, Marshall University’s ROTC, were all treated equally, regardless of gender.
“We’re looking for people that can get the job done,” Stinnett said. “We don’t see gay or straight, male or female. We only see cadets.”
Combat experience has historically been the clearest path for career advancement and promotion within the military, and now, enlisted women interested in advancing their military careers will have the option to prove themselves alongside men in combat. The announcement will immediately benefit the women that make up almost 15 percent of the 1.4 million Americans on active military status thinking about advancing their military careers.
“I’ve told my cadets that this announcement will open more doors for them,” Stinnett said. “I can now tell my female cadets that all branches of the Army are open for them to pursue. I couldn’t do that before.”
Lori Thompson, a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve and a Marshall graduate, said the military has changed drastically since she served during the Clinton administration.
“I began serving just after the implementation of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’,” Thompson said. “As a young, out lesbian in rural West Virginia, I had more difficulty managing my military experience as a lesbian than I did as a female.”
Thompson said the changes to the military exclusion policy did not happen overnight.
"It took years and years of soldiers and civilians both fighting for full inclusion," Thompson said. "I'm excited that everyone now has the opportunity to serve their country." Thompson said her experience in the military was invaluable and that she was proud of the military for taking the steps to include women and homosexuals.
“I am a proud woman, a proud lesbian and a very proud veteran,” Thompson said. “I am excited for our country and for our military that those three titles are no longer mutually exclusive.”
Stinnett said female enrollment in the campus ROTC was at an all time high and growing. Nearly 25 percent of the 65 students currently engaged in Marshall ROTC activities were female.
“We have had more females sign up this semester than we have in the past,” Stinnett said. “It could be due to the policy change, but a lot of the new cadets have showed interest in the program for some time. We’re glad to have them onboard.”
Stinnett said the Thundering Herd Battalion was one of the smaller programs around the country, but had a track record of being nationally recognized.
“We have two commanding generals who are Marshall graduates,” Stinnett said. “Every year I’ve had a top ten distinguished honor graduate. That’s a testament to the dedication of our cadets.”
Stinnett said the Thundering Herd Battalion was a close-knit group and cadets supported each other and considered themselves as members of an extended family.
“I tell my cadets to pursue the future that they want,” Stinnett said. “If you think that future is with the Army, come talk to us. Our door is always open.”
Chris Hodge can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.