For women vets, a battle along with a war
(Page 2 of 2)
Indeed, from the kidnapping and dramatic rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, to the photos of Pfc. Lynndie England mocking Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, the narratives from this war have focused on stereotypes: the spunky waif and the deviant. There have been stories of rape and harrassment, too. But on the ground, women are forging ahead as part of an integrated Army and fighting for equal opportunity in the ranks.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"I'm not ready to say that integration is going smoothly, and I think the public needs to get a more balanced picture of what's going on," says Chris Hanson, a University of Maryland journalism professor writing a book about leadership's view of women soldiers, tentatively called "Spinning Justice."
Critics worry that the country is seeing the feminists' view, and not a reality that may be harder to bear. "One woman soldier was blown up by a roadside bomb ... but lived long enough to die in the arms of her husband, who was stationed nearby. It was a very, very sad story, yet hardly anyone ever heard of it," says Elaine Donnelly, the director of the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes combat roles for female soldiers.
Indeed, the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces were never heard by Congress after Bill Clinton was elected president, a failure that critics say set a bad precedent. What's more, says Ms. Donnelly, moves like the 1994 inclusion of women in assignments to house searches and MP patrols in dangerous neighborhoods were made without proper research into the effects of dangerous deployments on families. "We know what effect sonar has on whales, but we've never studied how children react to extended deployments of their mothers," she observes.
And though the prospect of a draft has been dismissed by President Bush, many fear reaction to the conscription of women, should a call-up ever be necessary. "I don't see how you could have a draft without women being eligible for it, and there would be a huge outcry," says Mr. Hanson.
Women's service is changing the outlook for veterans, too. This week, the Center for Women Veterans outlined a broad plan to study posttraumatic stress syndrome in women, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has designated73 outreach specialists to work with women vets.
Yet at the same time, older groups like the Women's Auxiliary Corps are losing members, as former men's organizations, including the American Legion, now admit women.
To Keehn, that's a price worth paying. "Before, women soldiers were always hidden," she says. "Today we still don't know exactly how many women were in Vietnam, but we were there, and performing, and our actions started the integration of women into the mainstream. Today, the whole thing is to try to get over the gender issue, stop looking at men and women, and look at it as a team."
That notion of unity was exactly the point for the seven Fort Bragg women at yesterday's wreath-laying ceremony. It was, they said, a small, symbolic way to show solidarity with those who have gone before - and to celebrate their own remarkable role in women's history.
"A lot of us in this group have broken the mold," says Captain Boggs.