May 15, 2012

Army jobs open up for women in combat units

The Associated Press

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Female soldiers this week are moving into new jobs in once all-male units as the Army breaks down formal barriers in recognition of what has already happened in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Master Sgt. Renee Baldwin fires a .50-caliber machine gun during training last summer at Joint Multinational Training Command's Grafenwoehr range in Germany. Women will soon be allowed in six additional military occupational specialties normally located within combat units.

Courtesy photo

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The policy change announced earlier this year is being tested at nine brigades, including one at Fort Campbell, before going Army-wide. It opens thousands of jobs to female soldiers by loosening restrictions meant to keep them away from the battlefield. Experience on the ground in the past decade showed women were fighting and dying alongside male soldiers anyway.

Col. Val Keaveny Jr., commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team that is among units piloting the change, told The Associated Press that for the last decade it has been common to have women temporarily attached to the combat units and serve alongside them.

"Women have served in our Army since the Revolutionary War and they have done phenomenal work and continue to do so today," he said. "There is great talent and now we can have it in the headquarters of infantry, armor and cavalry."

Under the new policy, female officers and non-commissioned officers will be assigned to combat units below the brigade level. The change will open up about 14,000 new jobs for women in the military, but there are still more than 250,000 jobs that remain closed to women.

The new jobs within combat battalions are in personnel, intelligence, logistics, signal corps, medical and chaplaincy. The Army is also opening jobs that were once entirely closed to women, such as mechanics for tanks and artillery and rocket launcher crew members.

The 4th Brigade draws its lineage from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, whose World War II heroics led to books and a TV miniseries called the "Band of Brothers." But these days, Keaveny said there are more than 350 women already serving in the brigade and they will be opening 36 new jobs to women in the battalions.

"For the last 10 years, we have been fighting alongside women. In my experience I have seen that the Band of Brothers quickly integrate their sisters and they are a family," he said.

Capt. Elizabeth Evans, a 44-year-old mother of five, is one of the first women assigned to the combat battalions. She will be serving as a battalion S1, whose job is to oversee personnel issues within the battalion, including awards, casualties, human resources and other administrative responsibilities. She said there is a lot of pride associated with serving in an infantry unit.

"I think there's a rich history in the 101st and especially the 4th Brigade Combat Team," she said. "To me that means something. It means something to be a part of not necessarily history, but to be a part of a once all-male battalion."

Evans, who has deployed to Afghanistan, noted that women have been serving in dangerous jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan for 10 years.

"With the fluidity of the battlefield and how there are no front lines, it just makes more sense to me to allow women to come into those roles, those noncombat staff roles," she said.

Keaveny said these changes will have minimum impact on where women will be located while deployed. Battalion headquarters are generally located at bases where women were already stationed and the Army has been using female engagement teams to reach out to civilians in remote areas.

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