Combat roles now open to women
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced Jan. 23 the military was lifting its ban on women serving in combat.
The new policy will allow women to command troops on the ground and open more opportunities for promotion and career advancement, according to a report on Public Broadcast Service NewsHour.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior military leaders who advise the president and Defense Department, recommended the change and informed the Senate of their decision. The armed services plans to open most positions to women by May 15, said PBS NewsHour report.
Most, but not all positions will be open to women.
Women currently make up approximately 14 percent of the 1.4 million active military personnel and 10 percent of those have been sent to serve in war zones.
However, due to the changing nature of war, women were already in the line of fire.
Cedar Rapids native Miyoko Hikiji knows the experience first-hand. She served in the Army and Iowa National Guard for a combination of nearly 10 years.
When the U.S. first went to war with Iraq, Hikiji, a college student, was deployed to Forward Operating Base Al Asad in Iraq. She was a member of Iowa Army National Guard 2168th Transportation Company out of Cedar Rapids, attached to the 3rd Army Cavalry Regiment, from Feb. 2003 to April 2004.
“We worked in the northwest sector of Iraq,” said Hikiji.
As a female enlisted soldier nine years ago, the 26-year old was not a combat soldier.
“The unit was a combat unit and conducted patrols and seized weapon caches,” said Hikiji. “I was in transportation and brought fuel, water and parts to soldiers in the field.
“My unit also supported a Florida National Guard unit that conducted street patrols and manned checkpoints,” she said. “Female soldiers [her unit had 18] went along on patrols and were stationed at checkpoints to handle Iraqi females.
“Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are non-linier battlefields,” she said. “There’s no real frontline. That went away in these wars. Insurgents, enemies, civilians — all look the same.”
Hikiji, who earned dual bachelor of science degrees in journalism and psychology from Iowa State University in 2004, is glad to see the policy change allowing women to serve in combat arms branches.
“Now, in words as well as policy, it’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “This change in policy will provide opportunities for women to receive combat training. I was not trained in combat, yet I was alongside my fellow soldiers in combat.
“During that deployment, two female soldiers were casualties and two were permanently disabled,” said Hikiji.
“The company I deployed with were the best guys,” she said. “They didn’t treat us differently, either trying to shelter us or demean us. They expected — and needed — us to live up to the same standards in the same conditions.”
Some missions brought her unit together with other American all-male combat units in Iraq.
“It’s a bit different experience for an all-male unit, because if we worked alongside a short time, there wasn’t much feeling of acceptance. If the mission lasted two weeks or more, we had time to prove ourselves and were accepted and respected,” she said.
Hikiji spent three years active duty in the Army, stationed at Fort Polk, La., and Fort Bliss, Texas, in air defense artillery.
“I was a supply clerk and mechanic,” she said. “I saw the first push to give females in the military broader roles in 1995.
“In a training operation, I was a forward observer and delivered missiles to the front,” she said. “How was I less vulnerable delivering to the front lines than the soldiers at the front?”
She said excluding women from combat roles didn’t actually exclude women from the same exposure, but put them at a great disadvantage to not have combat training.
“I’m very proud to have served my country. I am proud of my battle sisters,” said this now married, mother of two young children and part-time model. “This new policy elevates their status.”
Fairfield resident Capt. Randall Stanford, officer in charge of the 224th Engineer Battalion, Iowa National Guard in Fairfield, said he had just received a memo from Washington, D.C., on the subject Thursday.
“The policy change for women in combat roles won’t have much of an effect on our units here,” said Stanford.
“It doesn’t mean women will be on the ground as infantry soldiers,” he said. “The change will be more noticed at upper levels of organizations, at battalion level and higher.”
Stanford, who served four years active duty and then joined the Iowa Army National Guard in 2002, said the 224th has two units that have no female soldiers.
Now, with the policy change, female soldiers will have opportunities to serve in supply and military intelligence and other roles on staff in combat units at the battalion levels, he said.
“I’ve deployed four times [Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq] and we’ve had female soldiers in our engineer units that build roads,” said Stanford. “Essentially, female soldiers are serving alongside us.
“We’ve worked with military police units in war zones and the female MPs go out on patrols just as the males do,” said Stanford.
Hikiji has written a memoir of her deployment “All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq,” will be published in March.
While deployed, Hikiji’s duties included truck driver, unit correspondent and administrative sergeant.
During deployment, she spent more than 70 days running supply convoy, security and raid missions throughout the northwest quadrant of Iraq.
Simultaneously, Hikiji wrote a company newsletter, contributed to her support squadron’s newsletter, wrote articles for a hometown newspaper and updates for the unit’s family support group in Iowa.
After she returned to Iowa, Hikiji wrote her company’s deployment history for the archives at the Gold Star Museum on Camp Dodge, the Iowa Army and Air National Guard State Headquarters.