The Army that Janet Hicks joined in 1975 had no maternity uniforms and wasn’t sending women to battle.
But while the former changed before Hicks retired as a major general in 2005, it wasn’t until this month that the Department of Defense opened up 14,000 new job assignments that bring women closer to combat.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in a news release Feb. 9 that “women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission ... through their courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill.”
Unofficially, however, women in the armed forces have always brushed close to combat in their assigned support roles. That’s been especially true for the 200,000 women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the “front line” is nonexistent.
“The war zone isn’t anything like the old days when the good guys were on one side and the bad guys were on the other,” Hicks said by e-mail. “Those are replaced by small enclaves with a 360-degree perimeter, sprinkled all over the area of operation.”
Hicks said she met little resistance or prejudice when she joined the Fort Gordon-based Signal Corps because about 20 percent of the division’s soldiers were women. Women were excluded from Company B of the division signal battalion because it was attached to infantry brigades, but they were assigned roles as mechanics and cooks that traveled to the same locations as Company B. By the time she was selected as the first female chief of the Signal Corps, the division was about 30 percent women.
“It was completely natural, in my opinion, that a woman would eventually be Chief of Signal and (commanding general) of the Signal Center,” Hicks said.
So what about the next generation?
On Wednesday, six girls in Cross Creek High School’s Navy Junior ROTC chimed in on why they want to go into the military and what they think these new positions represent for their future. They’ve noticed in training that the guys can do more physically than the girls, but girls can still accomplish many of the same challenges.
“We’ve got self-motivation. If a female tried hard enough, she can do it,” said Kashea Williams, a senior.
Almost all the girls have had a family member deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and understand the dangers. They talked about parents, brothers and uncles sleeping with their eyes open and dropping to the ground when loud noises startle them. While they were excited about the chance to travel, most have also felt the sting of not having mom home for Christmas and have said goodbye to many friends.
Regardless, they have family support behind their decision to join the military — mostly.
“My mom is still kind of on the fence. She supports me, but she’s still not sure,” said Brianne Haymon, a junior.