The Department of Defense made a landmark announcement last week. After years of discussion, it has decided to remove the ban on women serving in combat roles. While there’s been plenty of debate surrounding this decision, we should all be proud of a military that continues to push toward equality for all of those who serve and that strives to offer opportunities for the best soldiers, regardless of gender. The road ahead to integration may not be an easy one, but it’s time to start moving down it.
Our nation has been at war for over a decade. And today, there is no frontline. While women have traditionally served in combat support roles, they often find themselves engaged in direct combat nonetheless. Women in units such as aviation, medical service, and transportation (which are not referred to as combat roles) have faced attacks, have been injured, and have made the ultimate sacrifice. The division between combat support and combat infantry is blurred due to the nature of modern warfare, and women have seen combat for years. But today, thanks to this decision, more brave women will finally have the right to choose exactly how they want to serve their country and be recognized for their roles in combat. This means, too, that there will be more career opportunities open to women in the military than ever before.
Over 30 years ago, women were integrated into my alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. For the first time, women had the opportunity to become cadets at West Point and join the ranks of officers in the United States Army. Many, both inside the military and out, questioned the decision, asking if women could handle it, if they were qualified to become officers in the Army, and if they would succeed in what was once a male-only environment.
The first year of women faced immense difficulties that the women of my class could never have imagined. They were constantly questioned as to whether or not they deserved to be there. But that only drove them on to prove that they could handle the rigors of integration. It was no easy step—for the military or for the first women of West Point—but thanks to the courage and boldness of those individuals, the women of my generation are able to serve as we do today.
Now, the transition to incorporating women into combat units will be difficult and the road to implementation will be long. There will be challenges regarding how to maintain privacy between the genders, as military outposts are very small and service members often live in constrained and confined living spaces. And there will no doubt be pushback from those who do not support the military’s decision. Critics have also expressed concerns about a lowering of physical standards and the ability of women to handle the physical and mental challenges of combat.
But what is key to realize is that the goal of allowing women to serve in combat is not to reduce or change standards, but rather to increase the pool of talented volunteers from which the military will be able to choose the best soldiers possible—man or woman. The United States military needs the best fighting force possible, and allowing women to serve in combat roles is a big step in the right direction.