Women In Combat: What Do Troops In Afghanistan Think? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Women In Combat: What Do Troops In Afghanistan Think?

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The new U.S. military policy on women serving in combat roles was crafted in Washington, but it will play out in places like Afghanistan.

And sitting outside at the military base at the Kabul airport, male and female troops offered their thoughts on what the new policy might mean.

"I wasn't completely surprised with it. It's not anything we haven't discussed before," said Capt. Monica Paden, a military intelligence officer from San Diego. "We have been slowly being integrated into combat arms and into units in support roles."

She admits, though, that there's an element of "be careful what you wish for."

"Women want equality, and we cannot discriminate at this point now. We can't ask for one thing and not another," she says. "We've got to be able to jump into all roles, and it's expected at this point."

Sgt. Stephanie Santoyo, who's from Oregon, said she didn't think the change would have any immediate impact on her, but that could change.

She said that when moving to a new unit, "you'll have more expectations than you currently would, especially if we go to combat arms, infantry units — the bar's going to rise on this."

Meeting The Standards

Paden said this is the central issue: "We will have a tough time with the physical portion of this. That's why we have to be completely honest with ourselves. When we talk about standards and changing it, is there going to be animosity that grows because we can't do the same things physically?"

She concedes that she might not have joined the military if the new policy had been in place then. She says she didn't join to fight on the front lines.

Santoyo says there are other issues, as well.

"The atmosphere in an infantry unit is a lot different than [other] units," she says. "Some females just don't want to be in that type of atmosphere."

She says she can handle anything the guys dish out.

"They want to test you emotionally, physically, see can you keep up with us," she says. "They challenge you. I'm a little competitive, so I'm like, all right, game on."

Spc. Charles Lencioni has several concerns about the policy change.

"As someone who's in combat arms ... I was very, very against this when I heard it come out," he says. "I know that's not a popular opinion. But I feel like we're breaking a system that already works, and we're breaking it for the worse."

He says that only a very small percentage of women could meet the physical standards for infantry positions, and lowering the standards would be harmful to the military.

"I don't see it as an equality issue, I don't see it as females and males work as one team. I feel we already do that," he says.

Lencioni worries that the American public will feel it's discriminatory if only a few women make it into combat ranks, and he believes the public won't like seeing women being treated the way men are sometimes treated in the infantry.

But 1st Sgt. Keith Williams thinks the new policy presents a great opportunity for women.

"Women are tough, women can do the job," he says. "My thing is, if you've got my back, you've been through training I've been through, you are qualified, you can hit that target like I can, then I want to have the female soldier with me. Let the females prove they can hold this standard. My hat's off to that first female that makes it all the way through and that is doing the training and doing the same thing that guys do."

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