One of the big issues that Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum discussed at last week's Arizona Republican debate was women’s role in combat. This issue relates directly to the Pentagon’s announcement on February 9 that women can now be permanently assigned to a variety of positions within a battalion, including medics and tank mechanics.
Though hailed as an achievement for women’s career advancement in the military, this announcement represents only a small deviation from women’s current involvement in these roles. The recent change did nothing to change the fact that women are still not allowed to serve in infantry positions and is not at all consistent with women’s rapidly expanding involvement in combat in the past 20 years. Regardless of which Republican or Democratic candidate reigns as the winner of the 2012 presidential election, women have yet to see an egalitarian or consistent availability of opportunities presented to them in the military.
Romney, Paul, and Gingrich – though with varying degrees of support – all asserted during the debate on Wednesday that women are capable of serving in the military, but that their advancement should be determined by generals and combat leaders as opposed to by “the social engineers of the Obama administration” as Gingrich put it.
The candidate who displayed the most support for women’s advancement in the military was Romney. Even though he provided an exaggerated account of today's turbulent international affairs (and why they warrant an expansion of America’s military budget), he added that women are very much capable of serving in the military. Despite his support, no candidate referred specifically to infantry when they vocalized their views on the issue, with the exception of Santorum who said he did not agree with women serving in combat roles.
The Pentagon recently announced it expects 14,000 positions to be open to women in the military, elaborating, “The services will continue to review positions and requirements to determine what additional positions may be opened to women. Our goal is to ensure that the mission is met with the best qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender.”
The Pentagon discusses the advancements in women’s involvement in combat in direct comparison to those that were enforced in 1994 by then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. The Pentagon’s report states that the 1994 policy has been altered because of the revocation of the policy that prohibits women from being assigned to direct ground combat units.
Women’s involvement in the military has more than tripled since 1994. Statistics show that in September of 1994, women’s enrollment in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air force came to a total of 66,314 recruits. As of September 2011, women’s enrollment in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air force came to a total of 207,308 recruits, and if the women working for the Coast Guard are included, then the total is 214,098 recruits. Therefore, slight alterations to policies that were enforced 18 years ago are not at all consistent with the advancement of women in combat, and play a major role in hindering women’s progression in a field that they have expressed increasing interest, skill, and involvement in.
Regardless of which GOP contender reigns as the official Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential election, the fact remains that discussions pertaining to positions that are available to women in the military – in Republican debates and in the Pentagon – are vague, lacking in any detail or promise, and moving at an uninformed and unjustly slow rate.
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