ROTC weighs in on coed front lines

By Natalie Daher / Staff Writer

Laws of the military have progressed a long way since the days Molly “Pitcher” Ludwig fetched some water for the boys in the Revolutionary War. Women’s roles in combat later expanded as thousands were deployed as nurses for the Second World War.

Now, a month into 2013, women are legally permitted to operate artillery on the front lines of the battlefield.

On Jan. 23, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the 1994 Pentagon prohibition on women serving in direct combat positions. Before this development, women were allowed to work in many branches of the military, including intelligence, finance and communications, but they were denied access to infantry and tank divisions, among others.

The historical change has Pitt students and faculty debating whether women on the front lines represent a positive or negative development for the U.S. military.

Rich Trotter, a current third-year ROTC cadet anticipating joining the Army, believes that women might not be physically up for the challenge.

“I believe in complete equal rights, but I think when it comes down to it, it’s a matter of who could pull their weight,” he said. “On the front lines, it literally means who can pull their weight, not in the idiom sense, but literally. In some cases you’ll be pulling 100 pounds of rocks — even the best girl in our battalion can’t do that.”

Trotter is wary about how the inclusion of women in the infantry unit could affect the tradition of the United States military, and he does not want the inclusion of women to lower the excellent standards that the U.S. currently holds.

In the U. S. Army, the physical fitness test differs based on gender. For men between the ages of 17 to 21, a perfect score consists of a two-mile run in 13 minutes, 71 pushups and 78 situps. For women, a perfect score entails a two-mile run in 15:36 minutes, 42 pushups and 78 situps. There is a lot of controversy surrounding how and if this will change.

“It’s a numbers game when it comes down to infantry — can they lift you and carry you from the battlefield once you’ve been shot? Even women with the current standards haven’t been able to do that,” Trotter said.

Joe Mazarella, a first-year ROTC student gearing toward the Army Nurse Corps, wonders if the infantry unit will reduce the margins between sexes or ditch the current system altogether to implement new requirements.

“They may change the [Physical Training] standards or [add] in things like obstacle courses or carrying sandbags,” he said.

According to Pitt Law professor J.R. Frakt, the recent allowance of women into infantry units will increase women’s mobility in their careers and support the likelihood of their advancement to higher ranks. Currently, 16 percent of women make up the officer corps but comprise only 4 percent of the generals, and Frakt says this is a result of women’s preclusion from the front lines.

“That’s not because the women are less successful or talented,” Frakt said. “We should now start to see women promoted into leadership positions at a level more proportional to their skill.”

First-year cadet Violet Lawson, who intends to join the Army, believes that female leadership will be regarded in the same light as male leadership.

“By American troops, [women] are respected because they earned their rank, and they earned their place, so I think that the U.S. military will be very accepting of [women leadership],” she said.

Frakt said the delay of the integration process was a result of age-old stereotypes about women in the U.S.

“I think it had to do with an old-fashioned view of the need to protect women and that Americans wouldn’t accept if women and their daughters were being killed or sent off to fight,” he said. “And also the perception that women couldn’t cut it — that women weren’t tough enough or strong enough to be relied upon in a combat situation.”

Public opinion polls indicate that Americans are likely to accept the decision to lift the ban. Quinnipiac University conducted a nationwide poll a year ago that found that three-quarters of voters surveyed favored allowing military women to serve in units that engaged in close combat if the women wanted to do so.

Lawson said that although PT standards would ideally be identical for each sex, being a skilled soldier is not strictly about muscle mass.

“A lot of [a combat zone] is mental and has to do with your mental capacity to be in that situation,” she said. “Yes, you have to move, you have to fire a gun, but a lot of it is how you analyze a situation. There’s a certain part where the physical part of that doesn’t matter — even if the women’s physical standards are lower, the mental ones should be just the same.”

But even more importantly, Frakt said, the experience of women in war over the last decade has shown that women are very capable soldiers, adding that they have already gained combat positions in the Air Force.

“There has been a blurring of lines in recent years where many women found themselves in positions where they could potentially come in contact with the enemy and could find themselves in a hostile firefight,” he said.

Additionally, Frakt noted that Panetta was not without outside motivation to change the military policy on gender. First, Panetta made this change to institute equality based on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also, last November, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four female military officers and the Service Women’s Action Network — a group that works for equality in the military — that challenged the discrimination against women and questioned whether there was a sound legal and actual basis for the previous policies.

Frakt believes that, for Panetta, it was not worth defending in court, especially in light of the combat and combat-support roles of women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think this is a highly popular decision — it’s a decision with widespread support within the military,” Frakt said. “It would require a majority of both houses in Congress to override it, and the votes are not there to do something like that.”

Other ROTC members, including some female cadets, are still skeptical about the enhanced roles of women in the military.

Kristen Stoler, a third-year Air Force ROTC cadet, holds a viewpoint similar to Trotter’s regarding the biological inferiority of women as fighters. In addition, she worries that women will not be properly obeyed if they advance to higher-level positions.

“I support it. I think that it’s great that they’re giving women the opportunity to do what they want in their career, but I don’t think that it’s the best thing for the military because where are you going to find women who can meet the same standards as men?” Stoler said.

Stoler does not intend to fight on the combat lines herself.

“I don’t think that’s what women are naturally born to do — to go to the front lines,” she said. “If the woman is going to be the weak link out there, that’s not what I want.”

But first-year ROTC student Joe McClain, who plans to specialize in military intelligence, does not agree with the idea that women cannot hold serious leadership roles in the military.

“A prime example is our class instructor for our military science class, Captain [Jamie] Vincent — she’s a woman, she’s been deployed to Iraq I believe twice, and she went from second lieutenant to captain,” McClain said. “A stigma of the fact that women can’t be leaders or can’t lead men is complete garbage.”

Another fear of some skeptics is that incorporating women into the infantry could affect the “brotherhood” of squads. But McClain says that soldiers will have to adjust to the change.

“The way guys joke around in combat is going to have to change and adapt to women being in their environment,” he said. “Once time has progressed, everyone will [be] used to the idea.”

Lawson said that there is always a debate over whether female troops should be treated like ladies or like equals, and she adds that she does not mind nor require chivalry.

“If a guy wants to hold the door for me, I’m fine with that,” Lawson said. “As far as equal, I like to be treated fairly — I am the only female cadet in my military science class, and they respect me as much as an equal, though they are polite.”

Lawson believes that men should react the same to a fallen female soldier as they would for a male soldier.

“We all bleed the same color — red, white, or blue. And we’re all there for a reason,” she said. “Our warrior ethos is: I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade. It doesn’t use sex to identify the fallen comrade.”

[Editor’s Note: Correction: In Friday’s article, “ROTC weighs in on coed front lines,” Violet Lawson was described as going into the Air Force, but she is going into the Army and is in the Pitt’s Army ROTC. She was also misquoted twice. She said, “If a guy wants to hold the door for me, I’m fine with that,” not “If a guy wants to hold the door with me, I’m fine with that.” And she said, “We all bleed the same color — red white and blue,” not “We all believe the same color — red, white and blue.”]

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