Women and the Military

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently ran a three-part series on the issue of women and the military.

The first part focused on whether the requirement that men ages 18-25 sign up for the Selective Service or be denied federal aid for education and employment with the U.S. government is fair. An excerpt:

In 1980, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, prompting President Jimmy Carter to bring back the Selective Service System and draft boards in case the nation needed a huge military mobilization.

This time, however, the president wanted to include women, who already numbered about 150,000 active duty volunteers but did not serve in combat units. Mr. Carter hoped to have the authority to draft females for non-combat military posts.

“If you believe in equal rights, then you have to believe in equal obligation,” Jody Powell, Mr. Carter’s press secretary, said in an interview last week.

Congress disagreed. As did the Supreme Court, which, in 1981, ruled 6-3 against a group of men who had filed suit over the male-only registration and called it a gender-based discrimination that violated the U.S. Constitution.

The second part compared the 2008 presidential candidates’ views on the role of women in the military:

Even as the U.S. confronts two long wars, neither Sen. John McCain nor Sen. Barack Obama believes the country should take the politically perilous step of reviving the military draft.

But the two presidential candidates disagree on a key foundation of any future draft: Mr. Obama supports a requirement for both men and women to register with the Selective Service, while Mr. McCain doesn’t think women should have to register.

Also, Mr. Obama would consider officially opening combat positions to women. Mr. McCain would not.

The final article in the series discusses the issue of gender equality in the military and focuses on a female Marine:

Today, the Marine Corps has more than 11,000 women, including more than 1,100 officers. About 200,000 women serve in active duty posts in the armed forces, 14 percent of the total.

Yet Sgt. Williams and her fellow female soldiers and Marines are far from being able to do “anything” in the military, a fact that irritates proponents of full gender equality. The Department of Defense prohibits women from serving with the infantry, special forces, armor, field artillery and on submarines.

But the nature of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has made some of those prohibitions obsolete, with insurgents targeting support units and putting all military personnel in harm’s way, argues Lory Manning, a project director for the Women’s Research & Education Institute in Arlington, Va.

Female medics, for example, sometimes accompany combat units into battle. And special forces teams bring female soldiers on missions to help them question Muslim women who are reluctant to cooperate with male soldiers.

Two women have won the Silver Star medal for valor in combat, the first to do so since World War II. Nearly 100 women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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