When Marine Corps Cpl. Cammie Richard heard the news that a ban prohibiting women from fighting on the front lines had been lifted, she called friends she served with to bask in the “awesome news,” she said.
“I served with a lot of other women, and I think this is wonderful,” Richard told the American Press. “I am overjoyed and have been trying to contact them all day long.”
The move, announced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday, overturned a ruling from 1994 that prohibited women from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level.
Richard said she understands that not everyone can serve in a combat role, but that women who can, and want to, should have the opportunity to do so.
“I’m a Marine Corps vet, and we did the exact same training as the men. But we weren’t allowed to go to the extra two-week training that was specifically geared towards combat training,” she said.
“If a woman can put on a pair of boots and hike right alongside the guys and do the same things they do, then we should be allowed to be on the front lines. If we can haul the load, let us do it.”
U.S. Navy veteran Michael Gunter said he is “excited for women in the military.”
“When I was in the military, women could do anything that the men could do just as well, and some did it better,” said Gunter, a former aviation storekeeper. “They could outshoot men or shoot just as well as any man could. Their skills were the same. I don’t understand why they weren’t able to be in combat if they wanted to.”
Other veterans disagreed with the decision to lift the ban.
Airman 1st Class Brooke Doucet said she doesn’t agree “at all.”
“I just don’t think it’s a great idea to assume a role that is for a man, but we now live in a time of equality where women want the same rights as men,” she said.
“Combat situations aren’t situations that women should be in; they react differently to things than men do. I think that if a woman is exposed to some of the things that they would see on the front lines, that their feelings and emotions would be too much to handle the situation in the safest manner for the troop.”
Pfc. Shannon Thomas said that when she enlisted in the Marine Corps she questioned why women weren’t allowed to assume combat roles, and the answer given to her by an officer has “always stuck” with her and “makes sense.”
“He told me when men are around women in any situation, men are prone to want to defend women,” she said. “When on the front lines, if a man were to see a woman get injured he’s going to want to help that woman, thus putting himself and others in the troop at risk for injury as well.”
Thomas said she also doesn’t believe that women are “made to carry” the equipment that servicemen in combat have to tote around.
“It just isn’t realistic to me; men and women aren’t physically built the same,” she said. “I will defend women’s right on everything, except for this. I firmly don’t think that women belong on the front lines for emotional and physical reasons.”
Marine Corps platoon commander Mitchell Adrian said his concern for allowing women to assume combat roles is the effect it could have on the camaraderie within a combat unit.
“Things have changed a lot in the 25-30 years it’s been since I’ve been on active duty, but it’s really difficult for me to comprehend how personal relationships between (troops) in the field will be when genders are mixed,” he said.
“(Troops) build close bonds because they are in a tough environment and in close proximity for periods of time — this could change and it’s difficult for me to understand how this will work. Another problem could be that men tend to be more protective of women than they are of other men, and that could really affect a situation.”
About 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel are women.