BY STEVE TETREAULT
Opening military combat jobs to women might cause less change than meets the eye, according to Rep. Joe Heck, an Army Reserve commander and a Nevada congressman.
"As they move forward in determining what positions should be open and not open, I don't think there's going to be a major change," Heck said Thursday. "The current force structure is used to seeing and having women up close and personal in harm's way."
Some 152 women have been killed in combat, and 946 have been wounded, in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to Pentagon data.
"While not serving in direct combat roles, women have served in combat, whether as helicopter pilots, truck drivers, medics," Heck said, noting the publicized stories of former Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was injured and captured, and U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs after being shot down. Both women served in Iraq.
Heck is a colonel in the Army Reserve and is commander of a 2,200-soldier medical readiness support group based in California, with half of them being women. The Republican in his second House term served three tours of active duty, most recently in 2008 in Iraq.
"I had the honor to serve with some incredible women in the theater of operations, and they performed just as well as their male counterparts, sometimes better," he said.
As change is implemented, Heck said debate will center on how or whether women should be integrated into frontline infantry units and special forces such as the Army Rangers or Navy Seals.
"Other than that, I don't see an issue with women filling any of the other roles that are open to males," he said.
Heck said he supports the policy change if it is carried out with deliberation and does not degrade the effectiveness of combat units.
"I don't know if it will make the military better or worse in doing its job," he said. "That is left for commanders to determine whether there will be a negative impact."
Heck also thinks ground commanders should keep the ability to pick and choose personnel for specific missions.
"From my personal experience I have seen women perform admirably, and I think the ability to assess integrating women in more combat roles over a period of time is something we need to do," he said.