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FILE -- Cpl. Christina Oliver, center, during a patrol in Marja, Afghanistan in 2010. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is lifting the military's ban on women in combat, which will open up hundreds of thousands of additional front-line jobs to them, senior defense officials said on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013.

Lynsey Addario, New York Times

Why women in combat is a mistake

  • Article by: JOE REPYA
  • January 28, 2013 - 7:08 PM

Counterpoint

I take issue with most of Petula Dvorak's "We've Just Made War Safer for Women" (Jan. 26). Unfortunately one statement she made -- that more women likely will die -- is quite correct. I write from the perspective of a U.S. Army combat infantryman in Vietnam (1970-71), and a helicopter pilot in Desert Storm (1991) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2005).

Someone once said, "In war there are no unwounded soldiers." Believe it.

Understand that I'm not against women serving in the military, as many have done since World War II. Nor do I doubt that some can handle the physical and emotional hardships of front line combat. Women are serving proudly today and suffering wounds and death alongside their male counterparts.

Still, let's put that in perspective. Most of the women killed (139) or wounded (800+) in Iraq & Afghanistan served in combat support roles. They became casualties of improvised explosive devices, indirect rocket and mortar fire and aviation crashes. A very small number of these injuries resulted from direct small arms fire.

As you can see, a combat zone is a dangerous place, regardless of one's duty. But a front line soldier is always on the edge of death.

What troubles me is the Hollywood romanticized "GI Jane" notion of actual combat -- and the idea that by allowing women into the front lines their chances for promotion will improve. Women make up about 16 percent of our military and they have had generous promotion quotas for years.

The reality is that "war is hell," and we are seeing the results of this current war played out in hospitals across America with severe brain injuries, lost limbs and post-traumatic stress injuries.

Is America ready to view on the Internet a captured American female soldier being decapitated by a terrorist sect that doesn't follow the Geneva Convention's rules of war? I don't think so.

And yes, lifting restrictions on women in combat will cost the lives of soldiers in the future -- both male and female. It will have a serious effect on unit "good order and discipline." It will also worsen an already serious problem in our military -- sexual assaults (15,000 in 2011) on female soldiers.

I have no doubt that some women will volunteer for front-line duty. Will they be willing to endure, as I did, months of combat without bathing? Will they be willing to spend days upon days carrying 80 pound rucksacks (back packs) up and down mountains. Will they be willing to have leeches crawl into the most private portions of their body? Will they be willing to use a small shovel to prepare a site for their toilet? Are they willing to endure the nightmares that combat gives you for the rest of your life?

Friends, there is no glamour in combat. It is cruel, heartless and dirty.

The U.S. Army currently applies lower physical standards for females, such as modified push-ups and slower 2 mile run minimums. Will those standards now increase to equal those of the male soldiers?

When our military is already in dire straights from 10 years of war, it was a serious mistake by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his generals to completely lift the ban on women in front line combat roles. Additional opportunities could have been identified without a complete lifting of the restrictions on combat positions. One has to ask, was his decision more politically motivated? I truly hope that the military doesn't lower its combat training requirements to satisfy a social experiment.

Yes, more women -- and men -- will die in combat. Is it worth the price?

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Lt. Col. Joe Repya, of Eagan, retired from the U.S. Army after 30 years of service that included Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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