Another glass ceiling shatters as Leon Panetta, with the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, orders that women now serve in our combat forces. It’s a long time coming. Women have already been performing valiantly in dangerous positions with the result that over 150 female troops have already died in Iraq and Afghanistan. For those woman making the military their careers, this long-awaited removal of an unwarranted gender-based barrier means enhanced job opportunities and promotions, as well as the recognition that the military’s women are ready, willing and able to fight alongside their male counterparts.
The Pentagon’s monumental step toward equality might also herald a new era of respect for our female troops. For a long time now, the military has been besieged with a growing number of sexual assault and sexual harassment charges, like the recent scandal at Lackland Air Force Base where instructors were sexually mistreating recruits. See, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/23/lackland-air-force-base_n_2535035.html. Drawing a connection between women’s inferior position in the military and their sexual mistreatment, Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned, “When … one part of the population … is designated as warriors and another … designated something else … that disparity begins to establish a psychology that in some cases led to an environment [that created the sexual mistreatment].” Sexual mistreatment has become so prevalent in the Air Force that General Mark Welsh, the Air Force’s top officer, has likened it to a “cancer”.
Mr. Panetta has taken bold action in the fight for women’s equality. But winning that battle means nothing if women lose the battle for human dignity. Whether her job is behind a desk or at the front lines, our military women must be respected and certainly not abused. It’s axiomatic that if she isn’t worried about her safety, then she’ll do a better job serving her country in any capacity she chooses.
As General Dempsey said “the more we threat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.” We can only hope.
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