If youre on a track to try to become a general, all the rotations you have in your portfolio impact your ability to move up, said Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, whos a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This acknowledgement that they are in combat will allow women to get that heft that will allow more of them to move up in the ranks and get those top jobs.
Tammy Schultz, the national security and joint warfare director at the U.S. Marine Corps War College, which deals mostly with colonels and above, said that even in her classes, women were sparse. So while the studies accurately indicate that women leave the service before advancing, its a classic chicken or egg question:
Are they leaving early because they see the limitations, or do their early exits account for the lack of progress?
Most general and flag officers come from the combat arms, and if you arent allowed to serve on the front lines, by definition your ability to rise through the ranks is more difficult, frankly, whether you are a man or a woman, at that point, Schultz said.
Critics note that women leaving instead of staying in the service meant the United States wasnt getting the best return out of the investment it was making in female officers.
In combat zones, military leaders acknowledged that women have been needed this past decade.
In Iraq, for instance, the lack of women when searching door-to-door for weapons in Anbar province meant that male troops were often left to search Iraqi women, a fact that enraged many Iraqi men and some claim fueled the insurgency. A male soldier searching a woman in Iraq was seen as a sexual assault. When the solution became to allow husbands to witness the searches, men complained that they were being forced to watch U.S. soldiers rape their wives.
This led the Marines to create all-female units known as lioness teams, which in Afghanistan were renamed female engagement teams, such as the one that Bedell led.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who serves on the Armed Service Committee and was a military lawyer in Iraq, said wars in which everyone was at the front, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, had shown women serving valiantly all over the world . . . . The concern is, will standards over time be diminished? If theyre not, it would be hard to complain.
Bedell noted the evidence of the past decade proved that the old system wasnt working for anyone.
The Marine Corps was hardly at the forefront of gender equality, but they were at the forefront of getting the job done, and to get the job done they had to figure out ways around the ban, she said. It just became increasingly clear as you advanced that under that ban, the military really didnt want you. It wasnt about ability, it was about gender, and that just didnt make sense.