On a hot morning in June 2005, a supply convoy was chugging north on Highway 1 in southern Iraq, churning up clouds of dust on their way to Baghdad. Suddenly, gun shots and explosions fillled the air.
A group of insurgents ambushed the convoy with assault rifles, machine guns and RPGs from prepared positions along the roadside. Quickly assessing the situation, the leader of the Military Police detachment assigned to protect the convoy sprang into action.
Staff Sergeant Hester led a counter-attack against the insurgents. "Bullets were flying everywhere," Sergeant Hester, who was not injured, said in an interview in April 2006 with Knight-Ridder newspapers. "I could hear them pinging off the truck in back of me."
Staff Sergeant Hester, leading other Soldiers in the attack, jumped into the ditch and poured fire onto the enemy positions, not more than 150 feet away. The Americans killed 27 and wounded or captured 7 other enemies.
For her actions, Staff Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester received the Silver Star.
I remember that incident because I was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad at the time. In my unit, we had many capable, brave and compentent Soldiers, both men and women. They both faced the inherent dangers of being out on the streets, on patrol and in harm's way daily through our year-long deployment.
Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat units. This is a bad idea. The military is not a social experiment. The military is not like "normal" life and shouldn't be treated as such by the Left.
I served in the Army for twenty-four years. I have been in infantry, armor, combat engineer and special operations units that were all exclusively male. I have served in headquarters at the battalion, brigade, division and corps level that were mixed male and female. There is a difference between combat units and non-combat units.
I commanded the Technical Intelligence reconnaissance company assigned to the Iraq Survey Group in Baghdad in 2003. My Soldiers were about 75% male and 25% female. My female Solders were intelligence analysts, truck drivers and supply technicians. Our mission was to search for and seize enemy weapons, vehicles of interest and indications of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program. Having a mix of male and female Soldiers presented challenges for life in the field.
Most of our time, however, was spent back in our compound on the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). There, in buildings, it was easier to segregate the men and women and have separate facilites for each sex. We had separate sleeping, bathrooms and showers for men and women. Even still, it took diligent supervision from my officers and non-commissioned officers to keep everyone in check during their "down-time" to prevent issues and problems.
But, it would have been much harder in a Combat Outpost (COP). COPs are small, austere environments where our Soldiers live, eat, sleep and fight together everyday. The living arrangements are primitive at best and it would be difficult to impossible to provide separate facilities for men and women. In the past, COPs have been manned by infantry combat Soldiers, so partitioning off separate facilities hasn't been an issue. That's about to change.
I can't imagine what a combat commander would face today. This move by Leon Panetta to allow women in combat units is just the latest move by the Obama administration to erode the fighting capabilities of our military. The first came with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Now, a company commander has a much harder problem than I had to face. A company commander, or even platoon leader of an infantry unit is assigned to a small COP on a hilltop far from his headquarters. He is tasked with not only fighting the enemy, but also with maintaining good order and discipline, morale and the fighting spirit of his unit. Whereas before, that meant a platoon of 40 or so infantrymen, now that could be 30 straight men, 10 straight women and five each gay men and women or any other combination thereof. This unit will be occupying a COP about the size of a large house and yard for 12 months.
Do you house the gay men with the gay men? No, can't do that. Do you house the gay men with the straight women? Can't do that either. Do you house the gay women with the strainght men? Obviously not. Nor could you house the gay men with gay men or gay women with gay women. These decisions might sound "inclusive" in Washington, but they have real implications on the battlefiled.
When the bullets start flying, I belive, like Staff Sergeant Hester, everyone will pitch in and do their jobs. But those moments, thankfully, are not where our fighting men and women spend most of their time.
I have led female and male Soldiers on patrols, intelligence raids and in firefights. From my experience, there was no difference in the capabilities or bravery exhibited between the men and the women. But, those moments in my units, though often, were also brief. It is in the daily slog, everyday all day long for weeks and months at a time in close quarters where the Left's social experiment breaks down.
If Obama's intent was to complicate the life of our small unit leaders on the battlefied, then I believe he will be very successful. Instead of just focusing on beating the enemy, keeping his men alive and getting them hot chow and more bullets, those leaders now will be facing distractions of sexual harrassment, sexual discrimination, pregnancies and maybe even rape charges among his or her Soldiers.
My son is on the crew of a Bradley fighting vehicle in a Cavalry squadron. Their "house" as they spend weeks at a time in the field training or months at a time on deployment, is their vehicle. So suddenly it is a good idea to put a mix of men and women in a Bradley as their living quarters for extended periods and assume that across the Army, there won't be problems?
There are other considerations as well. In the event we get involved in another protracted conventional war like Korea or Vietnam, are the American people prepared for our women to come home in boxes in large numbers? God forbid that ever happen to any of our Soldiers, but now we've added that possibility into the equation.
Are the American people ready to subject our moms, sisters and daughters to the treatment they are sure to receive in POW camps like the Hanoi Hilton? Due to this latest move, I guess we'll find out.
Opening up combat units to women will not improve the military. The American military now is the best fighting force in the world. And, women have proven their bravery and professionalism under fire time and again, and in my presence. So, they have nothing to prove to anyone. But, allowing women to serve in the infantry will only lower the overall fighting spirit and help to dull the edge of the tip of the spear.
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