U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is set to lift the military’s ban on women in combat, a decision which Boston University students said should prove advantageous for women, the military and the women’s rights movement.
This decision effectively overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule prohibiting women from obtaining combative roles in U.S. armed forces, senior defense officials said Wednesday.
Emelia Thompson, a College of Arts and Sciences senior and member of BU’s ROTC, said the decision to allow women to serve combative roles is necessary for the success of the military.
“Because of where we are right now in the military, where we’re operating in this country, you need women to deal with women on the battlefield,” Thompson said. “If a woman walks up to some vehicle checkpoint and there are only men there and they want to search her it’s really kind of a big cultural faux-pas and it’s really offensive.”
The change will open up hundreds of thousands of combative, front-line positions for women seeking employment in the military.
Defense officials said Panetta’s decision marks the beginning of a process to allow all branches of the military to grant women access to these roles.
Thompson said lifting the ban will greatly affect ROTC students who have not yet received their assignments and do not yet know their career path.
“For a couple of my female friends who are years below me in school … it’s a really big deal because it means they could be put with combat units that are still deploying,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in Africa right now that is probably going to devolve into needing U.S. ground troops.”
Allowing women to serve on the front lines and in other combative positions would open up career opportunities and many different jobs that never were available to women before, Thompson said.
Michael Hamel, who is also an ROTC member, said he was glad to see that women will be given the opportunity to change roles within the military.
“It’ll be great for our military going forward, similar to the repeal of ‘[the] don’t ask, don’t tell [policy]’ where we’re now coming in and accepting everyone into the military,” Hamel, a CAS junior, said.
Hamel said the decision to lift the ban will be advantageous for the image and future of the U.S. military.
“It just helps prove how progressive being in the military can be and how it’s constantly moving forward with its opinions,” he said.
Hamel said his lieutenant at BU brought up the change in their naval lab and seemed enthused at the prospect of women shifting roles within the military.
“In terms of women’s rights it’s definitely great, and for our military it helps create a positive image that we can progress and move forward,” Hamel said.
A number of non-ROTC students said they support the government’s decision.
“Let’s not really care who it is that wants to serve their country,” said CAS junior Avery Gray. “If they [women] want to serve their country and they’re able to do so, then that’s all you really need as far as I’m concerned.”
Courtney Teixeira, a College of Fine Arts sophomore, said women have long been treated unfairly.
“Women have been considered a minority for so long even though we aren’t,” she said. “We’re literally half as much as anyone else so we should have the same options, even if they could be detrimental to us.”
Teixeira said the decision is a step toward the gender equality women have been fighting for since the suffrage movement.
However, she said she does not predict the decision to inspire a significant increase in women’s rights.
“I think it’s going to continue at a slow rate and we’re going to have to push on if we want anything to happen,” she said. “It’s a step-by-step basis.”
CAS sophomore Hanna Eichen said the decision is important to women fighting to overcome adversity, but should be accompanied by increased precaution for the women entering combat.
“I’m sure there should be special training for women because, physically, we are weaker and there’s a lot more danger with a woman being on the battlefield than a man,” Eichen said.
Thompson said that while she supports the decision, it has changed her opinion regarding deployment as an ROTC student.
“For me it does make the thought of deploying a little more strenuous,” Thompson said. “At the same time, I signed up for ROTC knowing I was going to be working for the military for at least four years and knowing that that was a possibility.”