At Fort Jackson, worry and questions over women combat role

South Carolina base trains majority of Army women

Women train at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 3:08 PM
Last updated Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 5:35 PM
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FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2012 file photo, female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Ky., in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan. The Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after generations of limits on their service, defense officials said Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)  Mark Humphrey
Mark Humphrey
FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2012 file photo, female soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division train on a firing range while testing new body armor in Fort Campbell, Ky., in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan. The Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after generations of limits on their service, defense officials said Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — When Jon­athan Proffitt, a 28-year-old infantry drill sergeant, joined the military in 2003, if a woman was present, “we’d just get real cautious.”

Nearly a decade later, he said the division’s culture is still unique: “Infantry is its own little world inside the military.”

That world is changing, though, and even talking about the change is making people cautious.

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced an end to the ban on women in direct combat.

Fifteen percent, or nearly 202,400, of the U.S. military’s 1.4 million active personnel are women. And more than 280,000 women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade.

Many have earned medals, some have been harassed and assaulted, and more than a few have been sidelined by pregnancy.

Most women entering the Army – 60 percent – are trained at Fort Jackson, a 52,000-acre community in the middle of South Carolina.

“A lot of people are going to be outraged,” Proffitt said of the policy change. “They’re kind of messing with something that’s worked well since Rome.”

For those women who want to fight, he said, “I understand that everybody wants to do their bit.”

Public Affairs deputy Patrick Jones wouldn’t grant media access to soldiers inside Fort Jackson. He said that the post was waiting for guidance from headquarters and that people were still figuring out what the change will mean.

For instance, infantry is trained at Fort Benning, Ga. But if women are allowed to enter the infantry, will they go straight there or will they go to Fort Jackson?

A more general concern now is how much it will cost to meet increased privacy requirements that come with forming coed units.

Of a dozen soldiers approached Thursday at Trenholm Plaza shopping center near the fort, no one openly supported integrating women into direct ground combat units. Almost all hesitated to express their opinions publicly and feared running afoul of higher authorities.

One said they’d just gotten an e-mail from a higher-up who warned them “not to talk about any political stuff,” in order to avoid controversy.

The manager of Pancho’s, however, was happy to discuss the news he and his wife had seen on TV the night before.

“I think ladies can do anything,” said Enrique Lopez, who is from central Mexico. He said it was his wife who had mixed feelings about letting women fight. Lopez said the change would set a good example for Mexico, where he said you seldom even see women riding motorcycles or driving 18-wheelers.

A longstanding argument for allowing women to serve in direct combat is that it lets them advance their careers.

“It does give women an opportunity to distinguish themselves in combat, like men are able to do,” said Beth Bernstein, a Democrat in the South Carolina House whose Columbia district stretches over Fort Jackson. “Women have kind of been in those situations anyway, so the policy change is good.”

Ralph Waldrop thinks so. He recalled how scary it was to read e-mails from his daughter, Leah, when she was serving in Afghanistan four years ago.

“She’d say, ‘I feel better today because we have adequate security going into the villages,’” Waldrop said. “That means they didn’t before.”

At an American Legion lounge in Columbia Friday evening, Waldrop, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, knocked down a list of arguments against letting women serve in combat.

For one, he said, look at Israel’s combat forces, which include women and openly gay soldiers. Also consider female police officers in the U.S., he said, who “will kick your butt.”

Waldrop said excuses to keep women out won’t stop the march of progress. Still, lifting the ban will take some time.

Military departments must submit plans by May 15 for how to carry it out. The services have until 2016 to state which positions should continue to be off limits to women.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson’s district includes Fort Jackson, and he supports the new policy.

Caroline Delleney, the Republican’s spokeswoman, said, “Congressman Wilson plans to review the Department of Defense’s plans for implementation and agrees that the brave women in our Armed Forces have earned and deserve the right to serve in combat.”


Here are examples of how some other countries have set rules for women in war:


Israeli women are subject to the draft — but they serve two years while men serve three. Women were also barred from direct combat until 2000. Still, more than 90 percent of Israel’s military jobs are open to women — including high-risk posts such as air force pilots, air defense, naval gunboat crews, artillery and search and rescue. But the five major infantry brigades are still all-male.


Canada considers itself a pioneer in opening military ranks to women, allowing female soldiers to serve in combat jobs in 1989. Nearly a generation later, women hold about 14 percent of all active duty positions in the Canadian military but only 2.4 percent of the combat slots.


Women make up about 9 percent of Britain’s all-volunteer military but are barred from ground force units whose primary mission is to “kill the enemy.”


Women make up about 15 percent of all troops in France’s military, the highest proportion of any European country. Women are not legally barred from serving in combat infantry units and the submarine service. However, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Martin Klotz said many womencan’t carry the 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of basic equipment, and submarines lack space for women’s sleeping quarters.


Germany’s postwar army excluded women until the mid-1970s, when a few were allowed to join the medical corps and military bands. The restriction was not lifted until 2000. A military spokesman was unable to say how many are in ground combat units.


New Zealand lifted all restrictions on women serving in the military — including infantry units — in January 2000. But spokeswoman Kirsty Taylor-Doig said no woman has ever passed the rigorous selection criteria to join the elite special operations service.


The nations of northern Europe have spearheaded gender equality in the military, with Norway lifting all restrictions in 1985, including for special operations jobs. Denmark, Sweden and Finland followed suit. The former Soviet states of Lithuania and Estonia lifted restrictions and sent women to combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, though many women in Estonia have complained they are encouraged to apply for desk jobs.

– Associated Press

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deestafford 01/26/13 - 04:59 pm
If Congressman Wilson supports

Lifting the ban. He no longer has my respect and shows he is nothing but a political animal. The soldiers will be shut up on this just as they were when they were threaten with ruined careers if the spoke out against lifting the ban on gays. Notice none who support this proposed change have Infantry ground combat experience.

Michael4yah 01/26/13 - 06:07 pm
I am surprised that the

I am surprised that the people of Atlanta arent more outspoken against this new federal twist of women in combat. You would have thought youd have learned your lesson from the deaths that resulted from a female guard that couldnt control a male inmate being transported to court. How many men have to die for women to understand that they are not physically or emotionally equal to men. Also how many women are going to be really ticked off to find out that you helped them get drafted into the military? Wake up, stop living in fantasy land. The best man for that job is now and always has been a man. Women are not warriors, they are life givers, not life takers.

oldredneckman96 01/26/13 - 10:18 pm
Women Killers

Do you want your daughter, wife, sister or mother out there being captured in some sand box? For Osama or anyone?

Patty-P 01/27/13 - 07:49 am

Women have served in war in some capacity for many, many years. Take a history class. Times have changed people. Women are just as capable in my opinion.

class1 01/27/13 - 11:08 am
I guess now women will have

I guess now women will have to register for the draft likes the guys. Equal opportunity for everyone.

soapy_725 01/27/13 - 11:21 am
Find a retired career military person

if you want the truth. But, as with all that our caring government does, the truth is non existent. What is the pressing need when we are reducing our standing army? When the budget is at rick?

Bait and switch the focus of the country. From guns to Hillary to Casey Anthony to Obama to front line female soldiers.

An excellent example of fully integrated forces, watch "Cops" on cable. Notice how the females are right in the mix of subduing felons.

It all fits with the social engineering of destroying the family unit. Destroying the roles for which were genetically designed.

soapy_725 01/27/13 - 11:27 am
None of the comparitive countries

are engaged in Global Domination. The USA is definitely on a mission to control the world. That would make some difference. The USSR used every human body to fight its battles. Why did we not use China in he comparison? North Korea? Israel is in a constant mode of survival. France always surrenders on day one of the war. The rest are defended by the good old evil USA. Why are they even mentioned? Looks like totalitarian states are the ones with the "all inclusive fighting force". Hmmmmm.

itsanotherday1 01/27/13 - 01:00 pm

Women are very capable in a myriad of military functions, and as I said on another thread,if, and big IF, they can pass the same rigors of training that men can, so be it. I'm guessing that would be a rare feat indeed though, as evidenced by New Zealand's experience :"no woman has ever passed the rigorous selection criteria to join the elite special operations service."; as well as France: " said many women can't carry the 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of basic equipment,

I strongly support equal pay and opportunity. BUT, the criteria for performance have to be equal too.

CobaltGeorge 01/28/13 - 08:10 am

Right On!

Willow Bailey
Willow Bailey 01/28/13 - 10:57 am
The more the liberal

The more the liberal politicians try to fix us, the worse it all gets. This is just another example of political hogwash using women who cannot fully grasp the reality of such a decision. Many Thumbs up to Dee & IAD!

Fiat_Lux 01/28/13 - 12:40 pm
War already is hell

Adding women to combat will only add to the misery and hellishness of it. What some women and "enlightened" men don't seem to realize is that our view of women and their "rights" and abilities is totally out-of-step with cultures that we likely would be fighting. Apart from the general barbarity of war, especially with primitive cultures, degrading women, raping, torturing and then killing them with the utmost savagery is a way of humiliating the men who are their husbands, fathers, brothers, and especially their brothers-in-arms.

No matter how capable women are, this is not something that we should do. It's only a short step from saying "yes, you can" to "yes, you must".

Try to imagine that for a moment.

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