Before we talk about the importance of women making history in certain branches of the US Military, let’s just back things up. In the 1970s, a prominent anti-equal rights activist by the name of Phyllis Schafly started a crusade to stop the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment from being included in the US constitution. To this date the ERA has yet to be ratified, but many of the things Phyllis campaigned against (and still believes to this day) have actually been fought for and won in our society.
While she believes a woman’s place is at home in the kitchen, she campaigned from a platform that said society was in danger of having same-sex marriage (done!), tax-payer funded abortions (not funded by taxpayers but it is still legal nonetheless) and that women would be forced to fight in combat roles in the military.
Phyllis is absolutely entitled to her opinions, as is every woman in America. But when you campaign for something that not every woman wants, and doesn’t actually speak on behalf of every woman, it is a slippery slope. We’re not surprised that the very issues she stood against are now part of everyday life.
On the issue of women in combat, let’s first point out that the draft actually ended in 1973, and the US military moved toward a volunteer sign-up model. However, men between the ages of 18-25 must register in the event that the US needs to be prepared to fight for their country if we go to war. Hey as long as Jeb Bush doesn’t become president in 2016, we’re good!
Phyllis argued that women should not be forced to register for active duty, as the last time men were drafted was in the Vietnam war. Fast forward to the 21st century, and in an interesting turn of events, women are now fighting FOR the right to apply for certain programs and squads within the military.
In 2012 a group of Military Servicewomen actually sued the Pentagon for not allowing females to apply for combat positions. In 2013 the ban was lifted and women were allowed to serve their country in one of the most toughest and dangerous military jobs. A number of countries such as Australia and the UK have also lifted their ban on women in combat roles over the last few years as a growing number of women believe they have what it takes to serve alongside men and shouldn’t be stopped on account of gender.
The world is certainly a much different place to when Phyllis Schafly was aggressively campaigning against gender equality, but she forgot to factor in the amount of women who actually want to serve their country and not be restricted from applying for elite jobs.
There are even more barriers being broken down by women in the US military. The biggest news out of the Army is that for the first time two women have graduated from their elite Army Ranger school. 2015 marked the first year that women were even allowed to apply. In April, 19 women entered alongside 380 men, and only two females made it through the grueling process (versus 193 men).
This is a major turning point for women and the military. There were no special favors or allowances given to the women, they were expected to meet every expectation like the men. Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver are the first two female graduates who went through 120 days of training in Fort Benning, Georgia, that included simulated combat patrols, grueling hikes up a mountain, sleepless nights, battling extreme weather conditions and learning to work as a team.
“I was thinking really of future generations of women that I would like them to have that opportunity so I had that pressure on myself. And not letting people down that I knew believed in me, people that were supporting me,” Capt. Griest said in a press conference.
Although there may have been trepidation on both the women’s part as well as the men who were training alongside them, at the end gender did not even factor into the equation for some of their male colleagues who graduated.
“When we were given resupply and you’re given 2,000 rounds of machine gun ammo, the last thing you’re caring about is whether or not your Ranger buddy is a man or a woman,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski who shared stories of the women helping the men carry their gear when they weren’t able.
“I think the battles that we won were individual. And the fact that at each event we succeeded in, we kind of were winning hearts and minds as we went. But that was more important to us, becoming teammates with our Ranger buddies that we’re graduating with,” said Lt. Haver about her historic feat.
Although this is seen as an historical breakthrough for women in the military, they are still not allowed to try out for the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, a Special Operations force that remains closed to women and has its own separate, exhausting requirements and training.
The Pentagon ruling in 2013 which lifted the ban on all military roles for women stipulated that each branch has until the Fall of 2015 to make recommendations on whether anything should remain closed. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is expected to rule on each request by Jan. 1st, the Washington Post reports.
In a statement preceding the news of the two women graduating from the Army’s Ranger program, they put out a statement on their website addressing how they would be treated if they were successful.
“If any of the three female students who remain in Ranger School graduate, including either of the two currently in the Florida phase scheduled to graduate on August 21, then she will not only be entitled to wear the Ranger Tab but will also qualify for membership in USARA. If she chooses to apply for membership, her application will be accepted, processed, and granted in the same fashion as any other qualified Ranger,” stated the article.
“Communications with Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade (ARTB) leadership throughout this time period have made clear that the unit has taken every reasonable step to ensure that integration of women into Ranger School has been as gender-less an experience as possible. USARA will not undermine those efforts by injecting gender into the equation at graduation by providing a special recognition, award, or gift on the basis of a student’s gender. Doing so would not only undermine the efforts of ARTB’s leadership and cadre, but also undermine the experience for the female graduate(s), who by-and-large have indicated that they want to be held to the same standards as their male classmates, and not treated differently,” it concluded.
And just to add to Phyllis Schafly’s pain a little, there is also news from the Navy that women are going to be allowed to apply for their elite Navy Seal program. Admiral Jon Greenert said he and the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Admiral Brian Losey, believe that if women can pass the legendary six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve.
“Why shouldn’t anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason. So we’re on a track to say, ‘Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL’,” he said.
This news from the Navy literally broke a day after the news of the two women graduating from the Army Ranger program. They believe by 2016 all of their roles will be open to women. In 2011 for the first time women were allowed assigned to ballistic missile submarines, and in 2012 riverine training first opened to women.
It is an interesting turn of events and is certainly going to have a wide-ranging effect on all areas of the military.
While Phyllis Schafly and many who think like her may not like the idea of women fighting in combat roles or on the front lines defending our country, they don’t get to dictate the way each woman chooses to live her life as well as the career they decide upon. The military registry may exist, but compulsory drafting does not and because the US Military operates mostly on a volunteer basis, the more women we have signing up alongside the many men, the less anyone has to fear being conscripted against their wishes, should we see ourselves in a major war situation in the future.
We are in awe of the women like Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver who are willing to battle the odds and come out proving that women are capable of doing whatever they pursue and put their mind to.
To see more details of the training the women and men went through in Fort Benning, take a look at this report from CNN: