U.S. Women Are Already in Combat; It’s Time to Break the Camo Ceiling

Lady soldiers welcome the chance to have shooting roles in America’s military—but they have a few requests, starting with new body armor.

u.s. military woman with gun in afghanistan

Village elder Haji Amir Mohammad Agha (L) presents a rose to U.S. Army Spc Charli Johnson during a visit by Afghan and U.S. soldiers in Jelawar in the Arghandab Valley north of Kandahar. (Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters)

Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of 'Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.'

When Master Sergeant Kim Lively of the United States Air Force heard that the Pentagon is going to allow women in combat, she was stunned—and excited.

“It’s not that the thought of being in a combat situation makes me happy,” Lively, 41, tells TakePart. Lively has spent the past 17 years on active duty with the Air Force and is currently stationed with a NATO unit in Belgium. “But the hard truth is that we will never have a decent percentage of women in top command positions unless women are allowed to gain combat experience. It’s our own version of the glass ceiling; the ‘camo ceiling,’ if you will.”

Lively joined the military in 1993, the year before the Pentagon announced an official ban on women in combat. But Lively points out that women are already serving in combat units, and “can’t get credit for the experience because…the law says you can’t be in combat; therefore, you weren’t.”

Technical Sergeant Jacqueline Steager of the 144th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard describes herself to TakePart as “delighted” by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s recent announcement. Steager, 31, lives in San Francisco and works as an Aircraft Ordnance Systems Mechanic. Like Lively, she emphasizes that women have been in combat for years.

Steager explains, “The thing is that specific roles like infantry, para-jumping and so on have gender restrictions, but women serve in security forces and as convoy guards and in other roles that put us in combat even if that’s not in the title.  Since 2001, more than 150 women have died in combat, and as Rep. [Tammy] Duckworth says, ‘I didn’t lose my legs in a barfight.’ ”

“Body armor that is made to fit boobs. Please, please, please for the love of God, make this happen.”

Dottie Guy, 30, of San Francisco, was a specialist in the Army. She served in Iraq in 2003. She says of the lift on the ban, “I think it’s only logical. There is no front line and women are already in combat positions. This ruling is a great step for acknowledgement that we are in just as much danger out there as any man.”

She adds, “There were times in Iraq where I had to draw my weapon and prepare to draw fire. There are women in positions that are traditionally non-combat—supply, for example—that were engaged in dangerous situations.”

Despite their obvious pride and enthusiasm, Guy and Lively sound a warning about a few female-specific aspects of life in combat.

Guy says, “The only thing that concerns me are about the special hygienic needs for women, but I’m sure that reasonable accommodations will exist if they were to enter a position that requires a lot of time in the field.”

Lively is a bit more blunt, saying, “Body armor that is made to fit boobs. Please, please, please for the love of God, make this happen.”

One staff sergeant in the Air Force Reserves didn’t wish to be named, but did want to add her voice to this discussion. She describes her experience in Iraq, emphasizing that she was not near any front line. She says, “But we did get mortared a lot. I don’t think I’d been there for two weeks before the building shuddered with vibrations from a mortar that landed down the street from us. Another time, as I was giving a tour to a girl who had recently arrived, something went off directly in front of our truck, but maybe 100 yards away.”

She adds, “To me, the question isn’t whether women could mentally or even physically handle combat. To me, the question is, whether our society can handle women participating in it.”

Seems like we’re about to find out.

The opinions expressed by the women interviewed for this article are theirs and theirs alone; they do not represent the views of the U.S. Armed Forces or of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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