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Women in Combat: Make Me a Sal Giunta

I have always been on the Girl Team. I was raised on School House Rock, Cosmopolitan magazine, and the gospel according to Helen Reddy.

So when I saw the announcement that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat and potentially opening nearly of a quarter of a million jobs to women, I was glad.

Because I want another Sal. And this time, I’d like that Sal to be a woman.

Can you tell I’m in the middle of reading Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta’s biography Living With Honor?  The guy impresses me.  He ain’t no John Wayne. No Army Ranger. He isn’t the direct descendent of Stonewall Jackson or Audie Murphy. “I am not a hero,” Giunta writes.  “Just a soldier.”

As a member of the Girl Team, that is exactly the kind of spirit we need  in training women who will serve in combat. Whether they will continue in those jobs downrange they have worked for years, or take one of the newly opened combat jobs, we need these women to be soldiers and Marines. Not female soldiers or Marines. Just plain soldiers and Marines.

I know I am probably an idealist here.  But if we Girl Teamers really want combat opened to women, then I think we need to repeat a lot of the steps outlined in Giunta’s story.

First, we have to set aside the civilian idea that the job of a combatant is a job that is open to just anyone. As Giunta’s story reveals, no job in the military is open to just anyone. You have to qualify.

If we Girl Teamers want women to be taken seriously in a physical job like the infantry, the physical standards for men and women have to be the same.  Yeah, it will be harder to find women who can reach the same physical qualifications as men. Infantry standards should just be infantry standards, not standards adjusted for gender. We need to be good with that.

 Next, we have to make sure that our combatant roles attract women with the right kind of personality. Giunta writes:

“See, the thing about the infantry is that it attracts fighters. There are a lot of people in the U.S. Army, but not a lot who are guaranteed to see combat duty…I wanted to join for one reason:  to learn how to shoot my weapon more proficiently, and with greater accuracy, than the person I was shooting at, so that I could kill him and then move on and kill some of his friends, because they were all enemies of the United States.  If that sounds barbaric, well, it was exactly what the infantry wanted:  people who were eager to fight.”

Just like there are differences between men who elect to serve in different roles in the military, there will also be differences in what jobs women will be drawn to in the military.

We may find that particular personality-driven eagerness to fight and kill the enemy may not be as common to females as it is to males. So be it. When we recruit women who are fighters at heart, let them be trained to do the job.

Finally, we media types can’t let women in combat roles be one of those numbers we tend to so carefully with our political correctness stick. As a member of the Girl Team, I will have to remind myself that because of the way women are socialized in this country and because of some very real physical differences (like, say, height) not as many women will serve in these jobs.

If we insist on some theoretical, numerical equality — and get it — then we don’t end up with the right kind of soldiers. In our ever changing world, we need combatants who are aggressive and confident and can be trained to be the kind of skilled fighters who face the enemy. We need more Sal Giuntas.  More Josh Brennans. More Hugo Mendozas. More good soldiers like the ones who fought and died in the Korengal Valley. And we need both males and females trained and able to do the job.

About Jacey Eckhart

Jacey Eckhart is the Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.

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