Those on the other side of the war didn’t know when Maggie Kwok was serving her role as a Marine Hospital Corpsman in convoys.
“They couldn’t say, there’s women there, don’t attack there,” Kwok, a military intake specialist for Penn State’s world campus, said.
And in the unconventional wars fought by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, where lines of battle are often blurred or even nonexistent, women in the armed forces have found themselves closer to combat than ever before.
That’s why, Kwok said, the Pentagon released a plan last Thursday that would provide nearly 14,000 jobs for women in the armed forces in battalion roles — and allow them to serve closer to combat than ever before.
The new policy overrides a 1994 ban on women serving in roles below the brigade level. Brigades consist of approximately 3,500 soldiers, and are made up of several smaller battalions — the level on which women would now be able to serve.
Women would still be barred from infantry combat roles.
But females could fill positions involving radio, logistics, communications and medical roles, former Marine and current Penn State student Tim Senkevich said.
And by serving on the battalion level, they would essentially be part of the front line, Senkevich (junior-history) said.
“Many of the jobs would probably be on a smaller, centralized base, at the rear of the battalion,” he said. “But the battalion level is the front line.”
Stephen Cimbala, professor of political science at Penn State Brandywine, said the change reflects our military’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In counter-insurgency combat situations, there is no real front or rear, and the military has perceived that with the role of women, Cimbala said, recalling the plight of Jessica Lynch.
Lynch, a soldier in the U.S. Army, was captured by Iraqi forces and subsequently rescued in 2003.
Kwok noted that the U.S. military has already embraced shifting strategies involving women, to fit into the special circumstances of fighting in the Middle East.
The Marine Corps uses embedded “Female Engagement Teams” to interact with the female population in engagement areas where women traditionally are forbidden from interacting with males who are not in their immediate family, establishing better lines of communication, Kwok said.
But the U.S. policy change is also the product of female pressure to gain equal promotion opportunities in the armed services, Cimbala said.
“There has always been frustration that there were ceilings on the promotion of women because they didn’t get combat-related assignments,” he said. “The thought is, they should be able to go all the way up the ladder.”
But there still is the question of how far into roles of combat women should be able to go.
Both Senkevich and Kwok said there are considerable issues with women and men both serving in true combat roles.
There are many problematic factors, including the societal and instinctual roles of males as protectors of women, Kwok said. The natural sexual tendencies between the sexes could also cause problems, Senkevich said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.