When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. --Lao Tzu

Women In Combat Part 4

First Posted: Dec. 15, 2015, 6:56 p.m. CST
Last Updated: Dec. 16, 2015, 2:17 p.m. CST
Army Specialist Lynndie England was dishonorably discharged for her part in the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. Along with other soldiers, she was found guilty of inflicting sexual, physical and psychological abuse on Iraqi prisoners of war. Although there were others involved, Spec. England became the poster child of torture in the American media. The blame for the abuse was laid on the shoulders of General Janis Leigh Karpinski. Gen. Karpinski maintains that she was made a "scapegoat." Amid the controversy she was removed from command and demoted to Colonel. All the soldiers involved in Abu Ghraib maintain their innocence, and that they were "following orders." Sometimes as a nation we are caught up in the myth of war and sadly forget that Heroes are not the only thing that war creates.

Unfolding miscalculations. It would appear that the black parade of miscalculations continue; in 2001, we miscalculated the amount of ground troops to pacify Afghanistan; the resiliency and capacity of Al Qaeda and the Taliban; in 2003 we miscalculated Iraq’s WMD stores, Iraqi response to the “liberating American army,” the length of our occupation, democratization, and the capacity of the “new and improved Iraqi government” to govern the diverse and conflicting religious and ethnic populations; when we dismantled their army and police force, we miscalculated the blowback of such a move – disgruntled and displaced soldiers and police became the bulk of the insurgency from 2004 to 2007. We further miscalculated both the capacity and strength of the New Iraqi security forces, and the tenacity of the insurgency. This led to a US Troop surge to secure the capitol and the Anbar Province. Since the rise of ISIS, we have miscalculated both their military capacity and ability to recruit. In 2006, we underestimated ISI capacity and resolution. In 2014, ISI morphed into ISIS and its forces crossed from collapsed Syria into Iraq. We miscalculated, for a second time, the ability and fighting capacity of the Iraqi Army as whole divisions fled from the numerically inferior ISIS forces. And since the day Lori Piestewa died, we have gravely miscalculated the level, intensity, and frequency of our women’s role and exposure to combat.

Since February of this year, the old crows have steadily clamored for more ground troops in the Iraq-Syria theater; ignoring the fact that Congress has yet to authorize the deployment of warplanes and troops to fight ISIS. First, they criticized the White House for subverting congressional authority and committing the military without congress’ approval. Then when an Authorization for the Use of Force was submitted by the White House in February, and again by House democrats in May, Congress balked. No one wants their finger prints on another declaration of war in case it all goes sideways. They don’t want to risk their political careers while asking American men and women to risk their lives. Thus the U.S. is once again engaged in a war with no parameters on its length, cost or endgame. The U.S. has already spent more than $2.1 billion on the effort, participated in more than 4,000 airstrikes and sent 3,300 military personnel to Iraq. Just before the Paris bombing that killed 129 people, President Obama announced that ISIS was contained. Yet another miscalculation in our black parade.

Legislators in Washington, using Paris as a modern equivalent of the USS Maine, have renewed the fervor for escalating the war against ISIS. The chorus of old men are crowing for more war. Republican leadership in Congress is pushing to send more ground troops into the volatile region. In the recent National Defense Authorization Bill that President Obama vetoed, Congress attempted to pass another $89.2 billion on funding operations like the military campaign against the Islamic State. This is a political maneuver to skirt around Congressional approval for Authorization of the Use of Force and allows congress to lay blame on the President if the new war on ISIS goes awry. As before, this “new” call for war does not include a draft. Presidential hopefuls have also joined the call for more war, not out of any tactical or strategic reasons but for their own political end game. What does all this have to do with the debate over women in combat? Well, there is the Pro stance; and then a Con stance; and the third shadowy side that no one wants to talk about; a side that neither the pros or cons, nor the democrats or republicans want the public to know.
In the end the philosophical war over women in combat is no more about equality or women’s rights than the Civil War was about liberating Negro slaves. The Chorus of old men in Washington needs bodies, and any body at this point, is welcome. This is the dark side that no one wants to talk about. But it needs to be considered, and the light of wisdom needs to shine in this dark little corner. I admit that I have my own slant just as any other American does, but in the end, whatever decision January 2016 brings, there will be no winners to this contest, nor will it change the nature or reality of combat in the modern battlefield. 200,000 women will not be drummed out of the military; nor will they stop deploying them to the warzone. In August of this year, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), set sail for the Gulf of Aden with 17 female Marines to populate two Female Engagement Teams.

The questions and debate in the nation about the morality and wisdom of women in combat in large is irrelevant to the reality of today’s battlefield: there are no clear lines of demarcation, there are no front lines, or ‘rear area’ as in past wars; a reality that the 9/11, the 2007 London and now Paris bombings have painfully demonstrated. Yet, our political and military leaders believe that ISIS can be contained by our military and technology. This national debate by politicians and citizens who are disengaged and divested from the military, will have no effect on the 1% who are in the military. Unlike World War II, Korea or Vietnam, the public has no vested interest in the war. After 15 years of war, 99.9 % of the American population remains disengaged and untouched by war. Women whether they are allowed in combat roles or not will not prevent them from dying in combat, nor will it stop a determined enemy from targeting them.

Whatever decision is made in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill it will be impotent in preventing our warfighters, male or female, from dying in the battlefield. This dissociative attitude of the 99.9% is best reflected in the fact that despite the 1993 Ban on Women in Combat, over 1000 women have been wounded in combat, 100 Purple Hearts and 2 Silver Stars have been awarded to women in combat, and 139 women have been killed. As the Marine Corps released its controversial study on integrated combat units and General Dunford submitted the request for exception to keep women from Marine infantry and reconnaissance units in August and September, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Female Engagement Team in the Gulf of Aden were training with the Qatari Internal Security Forces’ Female Protective Detail. The Female Partner Force Engagement Team exchange included participants from 15th MEU FET Marines and Special Operations Command Central.
Whether they are properly trained in the combat we expect them to carry out is the practical issue we should address. The numbers already hold true that women are dying and getting wounded in combat – that they are fighting and engaging the enemy. No decision in January will resurrect one dead woman, or magically replace or heal a torn limb or erase the wounds both physical and psychological. Knowing that, shouldn’t women, as Morgan and Hunt stated, have the access to the training that can only improve their chance of survival in the war that we are sending them to fight. Not to do so is a disservice to them and amounts to criminal negligence by the Department of Defense and the US government.

A war story. Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam Veteran and author, once wrote that “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. ” Both sides of the argument are trying to sell you a “war story” – they wrap one argument or the other in noble rectitude – one argues that their plaint is just and clothe it in patriotism and piety, but in the end, as O’Brien stated there is no rectitude, no virtue, no moral high ground; war is what war has always been: a sad and slow unfolding of miscalculations. Whether it is men or women we send to war, it does not change the numbing boredom punctuated by moments of brutality and barbarism that is war; the deconstruction and dehumanization of another human being, and the broken lives, minds and bodies it leaves in its wake. To think that somehow technology has sanitized modern warfare is ludicrous. Medical advancements have increased the survival rate of warfighters who have incurred catastrophic and traumatic injuries, but as their physical wounds heal, the psychological wounds remain largely untreated. In considering whether women in combat is the wise thing to do, we need to consider it in the larger context of whether the war we are sending them to is a wise endeavor.

We should consider all other options, diplomatic and otherwise, to resolve global and cultural conflicts, and not rush to war. An unamed U.S. official told Fox News early this month that approximately 200 more troops would be sent to Iraq within the coming weeks as part of a "specialized expeditionary targeting force." A second unnamed U.S. official told Fox News that the number of troops "could grow" beyond 200. Lt. Col. Steve Kahn, operations officer for the 15th MEU, stated that Marine Corps Central Command (Forward) saw requests for support from female troops regularly get sent to U.S. Special Operations Forces. But with no women in their ranks, the command had no way to fulfill them, Lt. Col. Kahn said. The requests would occasionally get passed onto MEUs in the region, but they would often go unanswered because the units weren't prepared for those missions, he added. There currently are about 3,300 U.S. troops in Iraq, and President Barack Obama has set the maximum number of U.S. troops at 3,550. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced as well that the 3,300 troops already in Iraq are now cleared to engage in direct ground combat against ISIS.

The escalation has began once more. At the onset of the Afghanistan War in 2001, the Rumsfeld Doctrine’s tenets were as follows: High-technology combat systems; Reliance on air forces; Small, nimble ground forces. The Rumsfeld Doctrine is still in place at the White House and the Pentagon. This doctrine believed that “small, nimble” ground force like US Special Forces could fight a quick and mobile war and defeat an insurgency and pacify a country. In Iraq, there were at least 50 air strikes aimed at decapitating the Iraqi leadership. Not a single one was successful. However, there were extensive civilian casualties. It took ground forces to pry the dictator out of a spider hole in the desert. In Afghanistan, without sufficient ground troops to secure the border, Bin Laden and Al Qaeda fighters fled the country into Pakistan and foreign insurgents moved into Iraq and Afghanistan, the latest generation of insurgents being ISIS fighters. There were not enough troops to defend the Iraqi and Afghanistan borders from a second wave of foreign-backed insurgents. We chase them off of one hill or a valley, only to watch them return in a week’s time. We still have troops in Afghanistan. Those troops were supposed to return by the end of 2015. President Obama announced those troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2017.

This endless war has taken on the dissociative quality of the video game the name ‘warfighter’ was borrowed from. People can turn off the war with their remote from the safety of their couch because it’s too complicated, too heavy, too dark, is not relative to their reality, a buzz kill. Less than 1% of the population is sent off to war and the larger majority remains buffered and insulated from that same war by our politicians, media, and war-profiteers. Our society has become divided like Morlacks and Eloi, one is sent off to war and suffers the brutality of that experience, while the greater population frolics and consumes with impunity. We champion one side or the other like there will be some great moral triumph at the end. That it will either preserve the sanctity of womanhood’s reliquary or some antiquated ideal or advance or elevate the cause of women’s rights or accomplish some rectitude of righteousness, goodness, or virtue. The truth is in this contest there will be no winners and victors; just survivors and victims. As it has always been in all wars.



This article was written by Joaquin Rafael Roces. Joaquin is a Marine Corps Veteran, is active in his faith community, and has served as a Eucharistic Minister and Religious Education Instructor for over 15 years. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and recently became involved in the parish’s Youth Ministry. He has a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder and has been in recovery for three years. In 2015 Joaquin was trained by the National Alliance for Mental Illness to be an In Our Own Voice Presenter. Joaquin travels throughout Northern Nevada working with NAMI to change attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes by describing the reality of living with mental illness and sharing his recovery story. Through the In Our Own Voice presentations, people with lived experience with mental illness share their powerful personal stories.

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