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A Woman's Role in the Military

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A Woman's Role in the Military

Rep. Heather Wilson is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the only female veteran in Congress.

By Heather Wilson

The House Armed Services Committee has included a new requirement in this year's defense bill that would hamper the effectiveness of our Armed Forces. For the first time in U.S. history, the Congress would limit assignments for women in the Army. This provision should be removed from the bill.

This change would impact all of the services, not just the Army and not just direct combat. The authors intend to close positions to women, not open them.

The Army is reorganizing into smaller, more maneuverable combat units, called Brigade Combat Teams. Eventually, there will be about 80 of them. Each of these would have several fighting units and two or three Forward Support Companies of 90 to 120 soldiers who provide supplies, food service and distribution, drivers, vehicles, and maintenance for the combat troops. The Army believes this modular concept will allow maneuver units to focus on the battle and call on maintenance, transport and other support as and when they need it.

In the Army today, nearly 27 percent of these support jobs are filled by women. While the company structure is new, the jobs are not. Women in the Army do these jobs now and have for a long time.

This reorganization of the Army raises questions about how women should be assigned. We should have that debate. But surely the right answer is not to freeze in statute a 1994 policy for the Army and apply it to all our services.

Proponents of more restrictions argue two general points. The first is that women can't do these jobs. They argue that women close to combat are not capable enough or strong enough to fight if things go sour.

Experience tells us otherwise. Women in Iraq are serving well. As the newspapers report daily, there is no position in Iraq that is "safe" from combat. You can be driving a water truck or serving dinner in the mess tent and find yourself ambushed or under attack. Even in a support position, our men and women in Iraq are soldiers first, and by all accounts, they are performing admirably. They deserve our respect for their courageous service.

The second general argument is that women should not be in harm's way. The argument is that, as a society, we should value our daughters more highly than our sons. Women should be the protected, not the protectors.

In explaining his support for his position, one of my colleagues told me he was trying to prevent women from suffering the terrible injuries he's seen out at Walter Reed Hospital. Of course, there are both young men and women out at Walter Reed. My colleague cannot protect any of them as long as they are assigned in Iraq. The solution isn't to tie the Army's hands or create confusion on the assignment of women, but to provide the support they need to win the war. And we will.

Perhaps the best argument against new limitations is that the Army opposes them. They know that they need the flexibility to use the best people they have to get the job done. Sometimes, the best are women. The Army cannot afford to fight with one arm tied behind its back. They know from experience that women are critical to their mission and that they do not have enough men to do all the support that needs to be done.

The Army is thousands short of their recruiting goal so far this year. More than one of four soldiers in combat support is a woman. Army leaders know that if their recruitment pool is cut in half, their problem gets even worse. This law could change a terrible recruiting problem into a recruiting crisis.

Over two million women have served in our Armed Forces, and every one of them has been a volunteer. There are some in Congress who believe "good men" protect women. The Congress should recognize that good women love freedom too. And they are willing to fight for freedom even when it's not their own. The House should remove these proposed restrictions from the Defense bill.

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