Written by Joshua Patton
I was eighteen when I joined the Army. As a reservist, I had to pick from a select list of available openings in the local units. I was offered the chance to be a truck driver, quarry work, or postal operations. The thirtyish man leaned back in his chair and said, “Postal Ops gets to travel to all sorts of different countries. And they have girls.” I happily signed up as the newest recruit to the 23rd Postal Company in Pittsburgh, PA. After two deployments, I had served with women in the field and respected that they faced many different challenges exclusive only to their gender. Yet, there were some in the ranks who felt that women had no place in the military and only made things harder than they had to be. Perhaps they resented the lower standards for women in the Army Physical Fitness Test in the push-up and run categories. Perhaps they resented the specter of sexual harassment that hung over the conversation whenever females were present. Yet, having been at war for almost a decade, female soldiers have been placed in harm’s way and served with distinction and honor. The debate about their place in the military is over.
The debate that has replaced it also has to do with their place in the military, but in a different regard. For years women have been barred from serving in Armor, Infantry, and Artillery units – the combat arms. However, following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission plans to make recommendations to the President, including the inclusion of females into these combat roles. The military community seems divided on this issue. Many women have been caught in combat and see the point as moot. Others worry that they will be unable to endure the rigors of infantry and other combat training or, even worse, in the field – putting the entire unit at risk. Also, they worry about the logistics of separate accommodations, latrines, etc.
Frankly, I think that with the ending of DADT and the inclusion of women in combat units, it is perhaps time to consider eliminating the separation of gender all together. I am not talking about Starship Troopers-style open showers, but perhaps incremental change starting with lodging. Again, I am not suggesting co-ed two-soldier rooms, but in terms of transitory housing, field lodging, and open-bay situations. The impetus for privacy falls on the soldier in same-gender situations. This should also be an acceptable standard in mixed gender situations as well. Yet, the barrier to this line of thinking is the military’s weird obsession with sex, or the prevention of it.
The military is increasingly becoming sexless. When it was a boys-only party, soldiers were given instructions from military doctors as to which prostitutes were disease-free and not thieves. Today, soldiers can’t bring pornography back with them to the United States. In 2006 and 2007, the former captain of the USS Enterprise Owen Honors created videos that served as introductions for the ship’s movie night. The skits he and his shipmates performed were obvious attempts at satirical comedy. Honors himself portrayed many characters, making gay jokes, masturbation jokes, and scatological humor. Some thought it was funny, but he was fired from his post on the eve of the Enterprise’s deployment to Afghanistan. In fact, many officers acknowledge that they are more likely to “get in trouble,” over something “moral” rather than martial.
It is this fear of sex between service-members that kept DADT in place for so long and prevents full gender integration in the military. But, sex happens. When people are deployed for a year or more – sometimes even less – attachments form and relationships grow. Yes, it could be a distraction, but there are more distractions than ever before and the military maintains the discipline to forgo those distractions and focus on the mission. They will get past this one too.
* The opinions expressed with in this article are those of Joshua Patton and do not necessarily reflect those of the rest of the staff here at Veteran Journal
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