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Mixed bag; Reaction to decision to allow women in combat draws varied reviews

Friday, January 25, 2013

Opinions are mixed, to say the least, on U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision Thursday to lift the ban on women serving in combat positions in the U.S. military.

Former state senator and retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Bob Marshall said he believes women can play important roles in the defense of the nation, but draws the line at having women serve in the infantry.

"Having a female in the cockpit of an airplane or a helicopter, which is a combat position ... I can see that happening. I have no problem with that," Marshall said.

But he expressed reservations about women serving as foot soldiers.

"The physical stress and capabilities of a female would make it difficult to do that," Marshall said. "I am a big proponent of opening doors for women in business, politics or the military, but not in a combat situation like Vietnam, where you might have to carry a troop on your back. That's a concern."

Marshall said a 5-foot-4, 120-pound woman can't be expected to have the physical attributes necessary to carry a fellow service member for what in some situations might be days on their back.

He added that it is vital in combat situations that each soldier be able to do his or her share.

Former Marine Jessica Hazen, Fort Scott, knows the special conditions facing women in the military and agrees with Marshall.

Even without the added variable of combat, Hazen said being a female marine is difficult and that women marines are often sexually harassed, being called such derogatory terms as "fresh meat," or "walking mattresses."

Asked whether she thought it was a good idea to open combat positions to women, Hazen paused a moment.

"That's a tough one," Hazen said "I have to agree with him (Marshall). The expectations of the things you have to carry in combat ... The woman's body is just not built for that."

However, Hazen did say she thought women were better marksmen than males because "they have more of a steady hand than men."

She said she was not in favor of having women in the infantry, though.

"I don't agree with that one bit," Hazen said. "Because, for one, they are going to be out in the field for months upon months."

Hazen said there are specific sanitary concerns for women who are asked to go without a shower for prolonged periods of time and those women might be subject to serious infections.

"When we were out in the field, all we could take was baby wipe baths," Hazen said. "At the max, we were probably only out there for a month or so."

She said even then there were times they could get away to somewhere where showers were provided.

"In the infantry, you are not allowed to because you have to be out there to do your job," Hazen said. "I don't think they have put any thought into that."

She added that troops in the infantry are expected to carry heavy rucksacks with 75 pounds or more of gear over long distances.

"It's a tough world," Hazen said of being a woman marine. "It's a small percentage of women to men. The Marine Corps is the only branch of service that has segregated boot camps. Women have to prove they are better than the men, so they are asked to do twice as much mentally and they have to try and be the best they can physically, just to try to keep up to the males."

Both U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan. and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran R-Kan., however, support Panetta's decision to open the combat ranks to women.

"I have always believed men and women bring unique skills and perspective to almost every situation," Jenkins said. "It is better for men and women to work together as a team than work separately. If the military believes this is also true for combat situations, then this policy adjustment has my full support."

Moran also supports the decision, which was recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Panetta.

"Women have courageously served our country throughout history," Moran said. "More and more, women have been called upon to serve in combat situations and this policy now confirms their service by the Secretary of Defense. Our nation values their service."

According to a Los Angeles Times report, the Pentagon opened 14,000 combat-related jobs to women in February, but Thursday's decision will likely open about 200,000 combat jobs, including in Army and Marine infantry units.

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