Women in combat showing prominence

Of the 30 cadets currently enrolled in the ROTC program at Murray State, approximately one-third are women. As of Jan. 23, only 20 of the cadets had access to almost 237,000 military jobs, including those on the front lines of battle.

On Jan. 24, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the 19-year-old ban on women serving in combat at the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Despite the historic nature of the ban being lifted, Major Paul Denson, officer in charge of the ROTC program at Murray State, said he did not think the decree will affect those currently serving in the program.

“I don’t have one (female cadet) right now who would even want to serve in combat,” Denson said. “Now that the ban is over, it creates another avenue women can think about but I don’t think there are women out there who haven’t joined the military or ROTC solely because they couldn’t get a combat-slated job.”

Denson said the main reason for the change in the military’s long-standing tradition came now was due to the nature of the conflicts the U.S. has been involved in recently.

“It was the two conflicts we’ve been in these past 10-12 years that facilitated the change,” Denson said. “Women have most definitely stepped up into combat roles already, not by design, but because you’re there, you’re leaving the gate, and bad things happen outside the gate.’”

Despite not officially serving on the front line, 152 women have died and more than 800 have been wounded.

The knowledge women and men receive while in basic training and in ROTC is identical, most of the education being focused on small squad tactics, rifleman training and basic infantrymen skills.

The divergence between males and females cadet training is seen in the difference between physical expectations.

“Physical training is probably the only area where there’s a difference in expectations,” Denson said. “There’s a difference between male and female pushups scores, females being lesser, and there’s also a difference in the two-mile run in the time needed to be completed under.”

Sarah Stafford, graduate student junior ROTC cadet from Hopkinsville Ky., said she believes the attention of most of the critics of the ban’s lifting has been too focused on the physical strain that a front-line job entails.

“What people are forgetting is that the physical part is just one aspect,” she said. “You want a strong leader, one who is vocal and makes good, moral decisions. You want someone you can actually follow into combat, rather than someone who can just carry you.”

Stafford said she thinks the ban being lifted will be beneficial to the military although she does not want to serve in combat.

“I think no matter what your job is in the military, there is always a possibility that you will face combat,” Stafford said. “That is why the Army trains you a specific way. In our present-day society, people want things to be equal and given the same opportunities.”

Stafford, who agreed with Denson, said she did not anticipate a rise in women joining the ROTC program or the military simply because the ban was lifted.

“I do not think that more women will join because of this, maybe a few but not many,” Stafford said. “If you look back on recent issues like lifting the ban on homosexuality, everyone thought that a lot of homosexual people were going to join.

Denson also said he believed the military made the right decision in allowing women to join the infantry.

“As long as we don’t lower the standards or change the way that we’ve been proven effective to fight then, I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s going to make the military stronger.”

The military has until 2016 to finish developing the necessary changes to their protocol and training to allow for women to serve in combat.

Said Denson: “I think it has happened at the right time and as long as it’s handled in the way it appears to be handled right now, I believe it will be an asset.”

Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer.