JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- As the United States opens all combat positions to women in 2016, female soldiers can begin to earn acceptance into the military's most exclusive brotherhoods – Special Operations Forces.
While woman have long served in combat zones, the move will allow women to serve side-by-side in battle with some of the most elite soldiers in the world.
"There will be no exceptions," Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last month. "They'll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They'll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that was previously open only to men."
Still, some questions remain as to whether women can truly serve in those roles.
Q13 FOX's Brandi Kruse sat down with five local soldiers – all women – to hear what they have to say to their harshest critics.
Brandi Kruse: “Just by a show of hands, how many of you have seen combat in one form or another?”
(Four women raise hands)
Brandi Kruse: “How many of you would go into combat a combat situation right now if the military asked you to?”
CW5 Teresa Burgess: “Well, we all would go if the military asked us to.” (Burgess joined the military in 1982. She now serves as Command Chief Warrant Officer for the Washington National Guard, and is one of the highest-ranking and most decorated aviators in the state.)
Brandi Kruse: “What was your reaction to this announcement from the Pentagon that all combat roles will open to women?”
CW5 Burgess: “Being a female in Army aviation, there weren’t many of us back then anyway. So I was just glad to be in aviation, and flying period. So the fact that maybe I wasn’t allowed to do certain types of aircraft or certain types of missions didn’t matte rot me, because there was able things I was able to do and provide my services to my Army and to the nation and do that.”
Maj. Jackie Herring: “It’s a natural progression for that to now be a formal option. For women to choose.” (Herring has 14 years of service. She currently serves as a senior human resources officer and was attached to a special forces group during mobilizations while serving on active duty).
CW5 Burgess: “Well its part of talent management, which is a big thing with the Army right now. Some people are going to be able to do some jobs, some won’t be able to do them. So get the talent where you want them to get the best people doing the best jobs.”
Cpt. Christa Draggie: “It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. So it’s nice that’s its official. Formal has taken place now, so we don’t have to wonder and anticipate when it would happen.” (Draggie is the current commander of the 204th Engineer Company in Centralia. She is one of the first women to complete the Army's Sapper Leaders Course).
Brandi Kruse: “I want to read you a quote, and I bet this was the awkward question you guys were all waiting for so we’ll just get it out of the way. There is a female columnist for the Washington Post. She wrote a column titled ‘Putting women in combat puts men at risk.’ I’m going to read you the quote. She says, ‘Plainly put, men tend to like women quite a lot and either will be tempted to express their attraction, and or will want to protect their female companions.’ She said, ‘Common sense tells us that putting young men and women in the prime of their sexual lives together in the field where the possibility of death is potential imminent, is an unnecessary gamble on unit cohesion.’ And this is a common thing that people against it say, is that putting men and women together in a small, cohesive unit in the field is asking for trouble because they’ll want to have sex with each other.”
CW5 Burgess: “First of all, soldiers are professionals and we’re on a mission and we’re going to do the job. I’m not looking at the guy next to me, whether it’s female or male, we’re going to do that job. So, I like to think, sure there are some lapses in judgment on occasions, but as a whole we’re professionals and that’s what we’re going to do is the mission and make sure it gets done correctly.”
Staff Sgt. Dianna Smith: “Until you put your left and right feet into these boots, then speculations are going to run rampant. And again, currently being in a combat brigade I can tell you that’s probably the farthest thing from anybody’s mind. We’re humans, right? So you’re going to like what you like no matter if you’re in combat. So I feel like that comment is pretty irrelevant to our mission. Our mission is to keep American free. That has nothing to do with sex. Also, in the heat of the battle, when you are thinking about whether you’re going to live or die or if you’re going to make it to the end of the day, again sex is not on the agenda. Sorry.” (Smith is a human resources non-commissioned officer. She has 16 years of service.)
Brandi Kruse: “For those of you who have been in those combat situations, my guess is that you were in them with men? Have you ever had an issue with what this woman think you’ll have an issue with?”
Maj. Herring: “I think a key component to that is the leadership. Leadership putting out the right training and putting out the right emphasis and making sure they send a clear message that that’s unacceptable and that we’re all professionals and we’re out there to get a certain jobs done.”
Brandi Kruse: “During the most recent GOP debate, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was asked the questions about women in combat. I want to read you something he said during the debate. He said, “They pushed a political agenda above what’s in the safety, security, and effectiveness of our fighting units. I’ve got a son who’s going into the Air Force right now. As a father, I want to make sure the person responsible for his wing has the ability to do the job that they do.’ Would any of you sitting here want a women in a combat position who’s not capable of doing their job?”
CW4 Jill Meeker: “I wouldn’t want anybody that’s not capable in that job. I’ve seen men freeze up just as fast as women in those positions. It doesn’t matter what your gender is. If you know how to do your job and you’re strong and you can lead everybody else around you, it doesn’t matter what your gender is.” (Meeker is a CH-47 Chinook Instructor Pilot who has flown in multiple combat missions, under heavy fire. She has 20 years of service.)
Staff Sgt. Smith: “Those cares and concerns are not relevant to today’s force. Today’s fighting force.”
Brandi Kruse: “Do you think there are any roles in the military, and jobs in the military, that a woman is not capable of doing?”
CW5 Burgess: “We don’t know, they haven’t been given a chance to do them.”
Cpt. Draggie: “I think as long as they don’t reduce the standard to allow women to do those jobs then there will be no issue.”
CW4 Meeker: “Exactly. Keep the same standard, regardless of whether you’re male or female.”
Cpt. Draggie: “Yep, keep the same standard.”
CW4 Meeker: “It should be the same for Special Forces, it should be the same for any type of job. If there’s a standard for that position, it shouldn‘t be based on whether you’re male or female. If you can meet that standard, you meet that standard.”
Brandi Kruse: “There is a belief among some male soldiers that they do not want to fight next to you in a situation like that, and that’s a problem. Because if you go into a unit that is supposed to be cohesive, and you have a couple guys who don’t want you there, that’s not a cohesive unit. So how do you, how do women in the military make that segment believe in your capabilities?”
Staff Sgt. Smith: “They will be the minority if they don’t embrace this person. And they would be the ones to be ostracized and it will become unfamiliar and not natural to them if they don’t embrace change, because that’s what we’re doing. We’re changing.”
CW5 Burgess: “It’s not in the Army’s interest to set anyone or any part of their organization up for failure. So it’s going to be in their best interest to put the best person in that job so that unit will recognize that and realize that it is ok. You’re always going to have to prove yourself. We do it in every job anyways. And it’s true with a new male that might come into the unit. They’re not going to necessarily accept them. They’re going to have to prove themselves. Unfortunately, we’re just going to have to prove ourselves one or two steps further.”
Maj. Herring: “They’re going to test you and you’ll, that female will just have to be strong enough to deal with it and prove themselves and keep their mind on the mission and just keep doing what they’re doing and set a great example. Because right now, women that are going into these fields are paving the way for others to follow behind them. So it’s never an easy task, but it’s possible and I do believe that we can change that mindset. It's possible.”
Brandi Kruse: “I have a couple questions from male soldiers that I was going to ask you. I thought that would be an interesting way for you to answer their questions verbatim. So this soldier asks, ‘If all positions in the military are open to women, should women be required to register for the draft like men do?”
CW4 Meeker: “We had this conversational couple days ago.”
CW5 Burgess: “Yes, they’re no reasons why they shouldn’t.”
CW4 Meeker: “I don’t see why not.”
Staff Sgt. Smith: “Man woman, why would we not do it if we’re in a scenario that calls for a draft? Why would we not require citizens to defend what’s ours?”
Cpt. Draggie: “It’s not like if you have everyone join the draft that everybody has to go infantry. It’s the best person for the job. There are plenty of admin jobs, nursing jobs. Things that females tend to be drawn to anyway. So why wouldn’t you have them join the draft just like everyone else?”
Brandi Kruse: “A different soldier had a similar question that touches on some of the things we talked about. They asked, ‘Would you feel differently about sending your son into a combat role than you would your daughter?’”
Staff Sgt. Smith: Nope.
Brandi Kruse: Do any of you have children first?”
Staff Sgt. Smith: “Yes.”
Brandi Kruse: Would you feel differently about sending your 19-year-old son to the front lines of the war or your 19-year-old daughter?”
Staff Sgt. Smith: “No.”
Maj. Herring: “As a parent I would support them on whatever they would want to do. I wouldn’t want to pressure them on going into one avenue or another.”
Brandi Kruse: "With the years you’ve spent in, and I’m sure you realize this, you have each in a way paved the way for this announcement, for this to be reality. For women to be allowed in every role there is in the military. I would ask, what you would say to the younger generation of women. To women who are coming of age. Who would maybe want to serve their country someday? What would you say to them?”
CW4 Meeker: “Follow your heart. Don’t let anybody stop you. Do whatever you want and what you desire to do. And if somebody tells you no, find a way to make it happen.”