The head of the Alabama National Guard says those who are troubled by the prospect of female U.S. troops in combat should see how it has worked for one of America’s staunchest allies.
“Look at Israel,” Maj. Gen. Perry Smith said in an interview after an Associated Press report that the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was “removing the ban on women in combat.”
“They don’t have any restrictions on women serving in the military over there. I mean, everybody’s a soldier. That’s the way I look at it.”
Smith then cited some females who hold important posts in the Alabama Army and Air Guard ranks: a two-star general — “and she’s as good as they get” — the commander of an explosive ordnance disposal unit, and an F-16 pilot who is not restricted in the missions she can fly.
Smith said many women who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have seen combat anyway, even if they were not in front line units, because of the front lines in those war zones do not follow traditional lines any more.
“Now there’s no rear, you’re just as susceptible to being shot at or getting an IED as anywhere,” he said. “From my perspective, you know, the women have certainly stepped up to the plate if attacked. They’re part of it, and I don’t see any complaints about women serving in Israel and buddy, they depend on the women soldiers over there.”
To those who might say women aren’t physically strong enough to serve in a front-line combat unit, Smith said women will have to meet physical fitness tests but are not any more likely than their male counterparts to do hand-to-hand combat. Because of the weaponry available to troops today, such combat is not commonplace, Smith said.
“We need patriots and there are women that want to serve and…I don’t see a problem with it, quite frankly,” Smith said.
Lt. Col. Tonya Rogers, a 23-year Guard veteran from Oneonta, said the Panetta decision to remove the combat ban for women will “open up a little bit more equal opportunity” for women in the military, but “there are going to be some challenges with this, and it won’t be an overnight change.”
“It’s going to take a while to get the challenges worked out,” said Rogers, who is commander of the 1200th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. But, echoing Smith, she said, “We’ve had women in combat.”
According to the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, 133 soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines with Alabama ties have died in the War on Terror since the 9/11 attacks. A handful have been women. Two were killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.
The Alabama National Guard has more than 13,000 troops, more than 11,000 in the Army Guard and more than 2,000 in the Air Guard. Fifteen percent of the Army Guard soldiers are female, and 19 percent of the Air Guard members are women.