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What should be the role of women in the US military?

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John Eyster
May 23, 2013

What should be the role of women in the US military?

This is the significant public policy issue which BRITTANY BROOKHISER researched on Discovering Democracy 2013. I urge you to read her opinion statement and comment

I will be posting additional STUDENT OPINIONS. One-week from TODAY is the annual Discovering Democracy Research Fair from 7 – 9 pm in the Library at Milton High School. Open to the public and free. ALL ARE WELCOME! See you there?

As Brittany invites in her statement, YOU – each and every one of you who read this blog post – is welcome to the Fair to talk with Brittany and her colleagues (41 other students) as well as DD IV staffers. In addition to BRITTANY’s issue of “Women in the U.S. Military,” there is a wide-range of significant public policy issues which were researched by DD IV’s students, including: The Budget Crisis, Capital Punishment, The Farm Bill, Mass Media and Censorship, Equality of Women, Gun Control, Same Sex Marriage, US and Chinese Economic Relations, Stem Cell Research.

This is a special opportunity to learn about the significant public policy issues of special interest to you from young adult citizens who have studied the issue(s) in depth. The students will share with you their stance on the public policy issue and look forward to dialogue (civil conversation) about the issue whether you agree or disagree. Civil dialog is a key quality of a healthy democracy!

Brittany wrote the following OPINION STATEMENT to share with you – readers of my WE THE PEOPLE blog. I should note that since names of officers serving at The Pentagon were cited, we have clearance from The Pentagon to publish this OPINION STATEMENT.

“Hello to all! My name is Brittany Brookhiser a member of Discovering Democracy IV. My topic this year is “Women in the United States Military”. This topic is very close to my heart as I plan to enter the military soon through a service academy! While in D.C., I had the great opportunity of interviewing several high ranking female officers in the Pentagon. (NOTE: DD = Discovering Democracy.)

“The morning of my interviews, I left our class at Congressman Paul Ryan’s office with one of his staff members. One of my classmates, who was also heading to the metro, and I had the benefit of a Ryan staffer pointing us in the direction of Metro. We jogged to hop on a Metro train as soon as possible. I soon parted ways from my classmate. I was on my own - all alone in the United States capital on the metro. After switching a couple of metro lines and slowly getting over my nerves, I found myself at the Pentagon.

“At the Pentagon, I walked around many lines and finally found security. Needing two ID’s, I was relieved that I had at least brought my student ID with me along with my driver’s license. After going through the security check that we were all (DD students and staff) accustomed to by now, I waited in a large waiting room for the officer I was interviewing to come and pick me up. Visitors are not allowed to walk around the Pentagon unsupervised (imagine that!). Soon enough, Colonel Rhonda Smillie and Captain Kimberly St. John came to meet me in the waiting room. I shook their hands and my nerves melted away as I realized how friendly they were. I then had more security to go through. The ladies signed for me and my picture was taken and placed on a badge that I wore on the outside of my coat.

“The first thing I noticed when we first started walking around the Pentagon was that it looked very much like a small city. There were shops for everything you can imagine everywhere. COL Smillie explained that this was in case the Pentagon workers were not allowed to leave for a certain reason. The second thing I noticed was all of the military personnel around me. I saw all branches and both enlisted and officers walking around EVERYWHERE. Did you know that about 30,000 people are working at the Pentagon daily? COL Smillie had to explain to me how to get around the Pentagon since it is very confusing. She said that when she first started working at the Pentagon, she had to step out into the courtyard (the middle of the Pentagon) to count the different layers and know which way to go.

“For my interviews, COL Smillie and Captain St. John bought me lunch and introduced me to LTC Allison Stewart and LTC Sharlene Pigg, who I would also interview. We all sat down at a table where they let me ask whatever I wanted. They gave me their opinions (which by the way do not reflect the opinions of the United States Army in any way) on different topics and told me of different experiences. I felt like a kid in a candy store listening to their great ideas and stories. If I told you all of the things I learned from these four women, I would end up writing pages on this blog. Instead, I will share with you some of the most interesting things they told me.

“On January 24, 2013, Defense Secretary Panetta rescinded the “Direct Combat Exclusion Rule.” This decision was the main topic I talked with these female officers about. One thing that really stuck out to me was a comment by LTC Stewart. She explained to me that women have been in combat for a while now, just not with the specific job entitlement of jobs such as ‘infantry’, and have died besides men without getting recognition or the benefits (family benefits for example) of dying in combat. To me, that situation really struck me as something that was not right and needed to be changed. We also discussed that war has changed a lot recently. How do you say what the frontlines are in Afghanistan and what isn’t? According to the Army, the definition of combat is ‘engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force’s personnel.’ So technically, pretty much the war in Afghanistan is combat right? I also learned that female MI’s (Military Intelligence Officers) have had more success than male MI’s in the past. Apparently the Afghan’s were coming up to the female MI’s and just spilling information to them because they were females. The U.S. also uses FETs (Female Engagement Teams) which are teams of women who work alongside different branches on the ground and communicate with the Afghan women and children to get information. Our military learned that the Afghan women and children trust our women more than our men and will give them more information.

“I also had the opportunity to meet and interview Lieutenant Colonel Brigitte Landry after lunch. LTC Landry is one of the people busily working in the Pentagon to make the transition of women into combat jobs in the Army happen. She helped me understand the physical standards aspect of this. Many people worry about the fact that women may not be as physically capable as men for these jobs. LTC Landry explained that the Army and the other branches are reevaluating the physical standards of each job and making sure that it is actually needed for the job. Are mile runs really necessary for physical standards when soldiers are sprinting back and forth more during combat? These are the kind of assessments that they are looking at and deciding if they need to be changed or not. So no, they are not “lowering physical standards” for women. LTC Landry also taught me a lot about how this transition is actually going to happen.

“I spent four hours at the Pentagon that day. As you can imagine I learned a lot! I have a lot of new opinions about my topic from my interviews and a lot to share!

"My basic stance vis-a-vis WOMEN in the US MILITARY is: Women have been a major contribution to the United States Military for years! We would not be where we are as a country today without them. Before talking to the officers in the Pentagon, I was one of those people who didn't really think women should be in combat. However, now my opinion is that if a woman can do the job correctly, she should most definitely be given the right to serve along side her brothers in arms.

I think I’ll save the rest for our research fair though on Thursday, May 30 in the library at Milton High School from 7-9pm! If you’d like to hear more about what I learned or would like to discuss something with me, please come out and visit us! We’d all love to see you! Thank you for supporting this great program. It was definitely a highlight of my high school years and I’m grateful for the opportunity!” /s/ Brittany Brookhiser

Brittany looks forward to meeting and talking with you 1-week from tonight at the Discovering Democracy Research Fair between 7 – 9 pm in the Library at Milton High School. So do her Discovering Democracy IV colleagues. YOU are heartily welcome. See you there?

Here we go…

Mr. E.



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