Cadets and professors in Cornell’s Army Reserve Officers Training Corps reflecting on the Pentagon’s decision last month to lift its ban on women in combat suggested that the ban will not change much in the army.
“I think there’s a misnomer when people say, ‘OK, now women are going to be in combat.’ Female soldiers have been fighting, serving, dying for the past decade . . . in numbers,” Lieutenant Colonel Dan McKeegan, professor of military science, said.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision overrode a 1994 policy memo that prevented women from being part of military units that involved direct combat, according to NBC News.
Although women were technically banned from positions in direct combat, past notions of all-male units are deceptive, according to McKeegan.
“I’ve been deployed four times, so I have four tours under my belt, and I’ve seen amazing acts of valor by female soldiers,” he said.
McKeegan added that the army does not discriminate based on gender, race or religion.
“I think at the best, the army is a complete meritocracy.”
Regardless, Panetta’s decision will formally allow women to apply for jobs at “brigade level and below combat arms” including “infantry, armor and some special forces units that were all male,” McKeegan said.
He said that these orders will be enacted no later than 2016 – or “as soon as humanly possible.”
While it is unclear as to whether the more than 200,000 direct combat jobs that will open up for women will be filled, Cadet Therese Bailey ’13 said she is hopeful.
“I have certainly seen women who have been chomping at the bit to really get into combat branches,” she said. “A lot of women are very excited [rather than fearful] for the prospect.”
While Bailey will be commissioning in May as a Second Lieutenant in the military police – which she added is “not typically a female position” – she said she is looking forward to seeing what new opportunities will be available to women.
The cadets and McKeegan alike stressed that the army is already, for the most part, gender neutral.
“Every cadet goes through a three week summer training – it’s about as integrated as it can get,” Lieutenant Kevin P. Bassney ’13 said. “I slept in the same tent as women; they used the same bathrooms as me. I think the only thing that was different is that they had a men’s and a women’s changing tent. That was it.”
Although the Department of Defense will need to come up with appropriate new gender-neutral standards that the soldiers must meet for these positions, since its lift on the ban is so new, no one can be entirely sure as to what those standards will be, according to McKeegan.
“I’m interested in the fact that this will open up discussions about how to better equip women with things that ergonomically make sense and make us even more combat effective than we already are,” Bailey said.
But by May 15, each respective branch will propose its integration plan to the Secretary of Defense for approval, Bailey said.
As far as the cadets’ hopes for the Army’s future, each said that they have no doubt that the recent policy change will be a success.
“I don’t for a second believe . . . that women can’t perform at the level that men can,” Cadet John Carlisle, a senior at the State University of New York at Cortland and civil affairs specialist, said. “[Physical training]-wise, I’m pretty certain that [Cadet Therese] Bailey [’13] could out [perform] me.”
Bassney said equal opportunity for people of different races, religions and genders has been present in the army for a while.
“The army has really worked to make it[self] as blind as it can be,” he said.
All three cadets corroborated this point, saying that in their training experience, a fellow cadet’s gender has never been an issue.
“In the absolute heat of chaos, people aren’t thinking, ‘Oh this is a girl, I need to act differently,’ . . . you’re thinking I have a mission and I need to get it done. Women have this in mind, men have this in mind,” Bailey said.
Echoing Bailey’s sentiment, Bassney said, “We all wear the same uniform.”