, Salem, MA


February 2, 2013

Column: Women long ago earned combat rights

U.S. women have been in combat one way or another at least since the 1989 invasion of Panama. That’s when Scripps Howard News Service’s Peter Copeland reported from the isthmus that women assigned to at least one operation in the Southern Command had been attacked and returned fire.

The information was never official, but the Pentagon refused to deny its accuracy when a reporter for a prominent West Coast newspaper tried to shoot down Copeland’s story as untrue. It was a sensitive subject at a time when women still were not expected to do any heavy lifting in the military. The thinking: They were potential mothers, and the weaker sex might not perform well under stress. Besides, it was a political hot potato.

But attitudes changed, and females unofficially carried some of the load when faced with it.

There have been numerous examples of women courageously fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although they’ve held noncombat assignments as medics, intelligence officers, military police and other jobs, they’ve also traveled with combat units and been drawn into the fighting. They not only have come under fire, they have returned it, been wounded and killed.

So the Pentagon’s recently announced decision to allow women in all aspects of the military — including combat — has been too long in coming, denying them the promotions and benefits that result from combat assignments.

In that respect, the U.S. military has been decades, if not centuries, behind other nations in giving a rifle or spear to a woman and expecting her to use it. During World War II, women were an integral part in the underground units that fought against Nazi oppression. They also risked life and limb to infiltrate and gather intelligence. Israeli women long have taken part in combat operations. Canada resolved the question in 1989 by giving women fighting status in all units.

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