Asked about reports of putting women closer to land combat, the president said: “There’s no change of policy as far as I’m concerned. No women in combat. Having said that, let me explain, we’ve got to make sure we define combat properly: We’ve got women flying choppers and women flying fighters, which I’m perfectly content with.”
The question came up in light of the Army’s transforming its 10 active-combat divisions and re-examining women’s roles. Instead of the normal three brigades per division, each division will have four or more “units of action.” They are being designed to train and deploy as one modular unit, with combat and support units as one.
Therein lies the potential problem. Pentagon policy not only bans women from direct combat brigades, such as infantry or armor, it also says they cannot join support units that collocate with those units.
Congress requires that any change in women-in-combat rules first be presented to lawmakers.
In a war without frontlines, female soldiers have stepped into the line of fire like never before.
The Army’s combat arms branches, infantry, armor and artillery, remain closed to women. But the Massachusetts National Guard’s 42nd Military Police Company is charged with a mission in Iraq that will require three of its female MPs to log thousands of miles of mounted combat patrols alongside their male comrades.
Second Lt. Kristin Procida, a 24-year-old live wire assigned to the deploying unit straight from officer training, already has led several convoys through the heart of the Sunni Triangle. Procida isn’t one to challenge Pentagon doctrine, but she sees little distinction in this war between units that allow women and those that don’t.
“Right now in this environment, we’re doing the same missions as infantry. We’re out there just as much as the infantrymen are,” she said.
Her veteran platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Timothy Hoke, gives the energetic young lieutenant high marks as a soldier and a leader.
He’s just as impressed with his enlisted female MPs: Spc. Sarah Kane of Medford and Spc. Dalila Navarro of Springfield. Kane drives one of the platoon’s armored Humvees, and Navarro is a gunner on another.
The headquarters platoon also boasts several fighting women, including the platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Ternilia Myers. Five are mothers.
Spc. Ngeri Gordan, an administrative specialist, has put in for leave midway through her Iraq tour hoping to be home for her daughter’s second birthday.
“They get a lot of respect from the guys because they are soldiers,” said Richard Bowe, the company’s first sergeant.