East Texas service women talk about females in combat

TYLER (KYTX) - It's one of the biggest changes to the U.S. military in our nation's history.

This week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reversed a ban on military women serving in combat.

East Texas military women are torn on what to think. Many women across the country and right here in East Texas call the reversal a victory. Others are glad the goal is equality, but they're worried about how women like themselves would do in combat.

Panetta said, "If they're willing to put their lives on the line, then we ought to recognize that they deserve a chance to serve at any capacity they want."

East Texas service women call the battlefield a changed place. That's a fact the Chiefs of Staff talked about when considering letting women serve in combat.

"There's already females out there on the front line, engineers, or MP's or medics," said East Texas native, Staff Sgt. Christel Fernandez.

She's has been on the ground with infantry units, but never in combat.

"It was hard for me and I'm a pretty tough girl."

She appreciates the move towards an equal opportunity military, but worries for women's capability in a combat situation.

"I was an engineer and was working with a lot of infantry units."

When she was in Afghanistan last year, she saw how physically demanding the infantry can be.

"Going up and down hills with all that extra baggage, with ammo, with supplies they needed for 10 days," she said.

The staff sergeant says it's not just differences in physicality she's concerned about.  

"A lot of it is a mental thing."

She says she wouldn't be able to deal with situations like mass casualties.

"I'm a mother. I think about things a little bit differently."

Sgt. Fernandez says there *are women who can do it.  Retired Air Force Maj. Mary Hegar says she can.

"Once the bullets start flying we're going to pee our pants. I've heard these things! Well bullets were certainly flying into my arm, and I was maintaining my composure," she said.

Hegar says just the chance to serve in combat is progress.

She says, "Lifting this ban sends a message, saying you know, we're not going to treat people differently anymore. We're going to treat people based on their capability."

The changes will not come overnight. The new policy will be phased in over the next 3 years. Women will have to meet fitness requirements, which could keep them out of some units.

It will open up more than 200-thousand frontline jobs to women, mostly in the army and marines.  Lifting the ban, means more advancement, and higher pay for female officers.

The ban on women in specialties such as armor, artillery and infantry dates back to 1994. The Pentagon loosened some of those restrictions in 2012, and Panetta said the result "has been very positive."





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