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McEntee: Women warriors finally win battle against bias

Published January 25, 2013 8:08 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Fighting a war isn't all about big, strong men in uniform. It's about training, training and more training to do the job you're assigned. It's about making correct on-the-spot decisions, including while in combat.

Women have been warriors across the ages and are now — in nations from Canada to New Zealand. American women already have fought and died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, just as they have since the Revolutionary War.

Women in the five U.S. military services work as hard as men, but the absence of battlefield experience often hinders their ability to rise in rank and pay. But now that top leaders have deemed them fit for fighting if they prove themselves so, doors will open for women to advance just as men do now.

It's a huge leap forward. But, sadly, it's not surprising that, for many Americans, the thought of a woman in full battle rattle fighting alongside men is anathema. The naysayers talk about men's need to protect women, about possible sexual relations or sexual violence and about how soldiers relieve themselves in the field.

And these things aren't happening now?

Such arguments don't sway former Utah congressional candidate Donna McAleer, a West Point graduate who served as a platoon leader and military policewoman, among other assignments, in the U.S. Army.

"What this is about is readiness, retention and recruitment," she says. "Women are not going to flood infantry and armor [divisions]."

They, like their male colleagues, must meet physical and mental standards, she says. "It should be [about] the job, not the gender."

You train, just as anyone in any job does, to become the best you can be, no matter your sex. This change is also about choice; women now will be able to compete with men and one another for the jobs they want.

That's what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded after seeing women in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dempsey told The New York Times his story about boarding a Humvee in Baghdad and slapping the leg of the turret gunner.

"Who are you?" he asked. "I'm Amanda," the soldier replied.

It was then that Dempsey decided things had to change, and he and Panetta — who also had talked with women warriors — recently announced the policy shift.

Predictably, you could hear howls from some men — and some women — who think all women are too weak to endure a long march, a mortar barrage or a firefight.

To McAleer, that's a specious argument and a nonissue.

No one, she says, is suggesting a lower physical standard. Man or woman, a soldier must, for example, be able to throw a grenade 30 meters. It's about setting a standard and ensuring the model is consistent for everyone.

That may exclude women from the Navy SEALs or the Army's Delta Force, Rangers and Green Berets, but few men make it into those ranks either.

The bottom line is women already are fighting and dying in combat. One day, a woman will be secretary of defense or chair of the Joint Chiefs. Either one, or both, would be an epic victory for all of us.

Even better: a woman as commander in chief.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltlrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.