Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: They’re fighting and they’re dying together. And the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality.
Shelby: Announcing a major change for the Armed Forces, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said more than 200,000 military jobs will open up to women.
Major Sandra M. Beekman: I’m ecstatic that it happened. And hopefully all the females out there will make it worth its while.
Shelby: While this week’s announcement formally overturns the longstanding ban, women have been fighting alongside men for years.
Brigadier General Lori Reynolds: Women are driving convoys, women are squadron commanders of helo squadrons – it’s happening all over the place. Women have been in combat situations since the war started.
Shelby: And combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost more than 150 women their lives and left more than 800 wounded. Like Dawn Halfaker who lost her arm fighting alongside infantry in Iraq.
Dawn Halfaker: We were all fighting the same fight, doing the same thing.
Shelby: Halfaker’s platoon, which had three other women in it, ran more than 100 combat missions.
Halfaker: I had 33 people’s lives in my hands and I never once doubted sending a female on a mission or giving them a certain set of responsibilities.
Shelby: Women have also been enduring the same training, even graduating from some of the military’s toughest boot camps. Parris Island is the only place where female recruits can be made into Marines. And even though the females are separated from the males for training, they are pretty much held to all of the same requirements.
Morgan Almazan: We do all the same things. There’s really no difference between the males and the females.
Shelby: Brigadier General Lori Reynolds is the first woman to command a Marine combat zone, and the first woman to serve as commander of the Marine Corps’ recruit training facility at Parris Island in South Carolina. We spoke to her before the Pentagon’s policy change on women in combat. She told me women at Parris Island are treated no differently from the men.
What challenges do they face?
Reynolds: They will face every challenge that the males face. The program instruction for our Marines in 4th Battalion – which is our female recruit training battalion – is identical to the male recruit training battalions.
Shelby: In order to graduate from Parris Island, females have to prove that they are in shape, they can shoot and they can meet all of the physical and mental demands of being a Marine. And some of them say they would like to be assigned to combat units in the future.
Almazan: Just being able to be out there and say that you fought for your country, you fought next to the males, you were the one that was charging the frontline. To me, that would be an amazing feeling.
Shelby: You would do it if you could?
Almazan: Yes, ma’am.
Shelby: But some say there is a difference between genders. Like Victoria Rivers, who was tapped to go on missions with men.
Victoria Rivers: Working side-by-side with special forces team and it was pretty cool.
Shelby: Yet Rivers admits some military jobs may be too demanding for a female.
Rivers: There’s jobs that women can’t do physically because they just don’t have the strength.
Shelby: In the Army, an infantryman carries a pack which could end up weighing more than 100 pounds depending on the situation. And the Marines recently opened their infantry officer school to women, but the first two dropped out before finishing the tough training.
While the defense department’s policy change means more jobs are opening up to women, they won’t be filling positions right away. And they will likely have to meet tough standards that could keep them out of units where the physical demands are especially high.
Reynolds: We should do it in such a way that’s going to make the Corps better. Not just because it’s time to put women in the infantry. Ok, but is it going to make the Corps better? That’s what I would say. Let’s do it in such a way that it’s going to make us better.
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.