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Women welcome frontline policy change

Published 11:12 am Monday, January 28, 2013

The Pentagon announced Thursday it would lift the ban on women in military combat roles, a move one local service member and two local veterans said they welcome as an official recognition of the risks and sacrifices they and other women have already made.

The Army and Marines will present plans to open most jobs to female service members by May 15, but the women interviewed by The State Journal said females have already performed many dangerous duties they werent technically supposed to perform. They just didnt get credit for them.

Its like, thanks, we know that you helped out with that raid, but you werent really supposed to be doing that, said Tabitha Tracey, an Iraq War veteran who retired as an Army specialist. But Sgt. Joe Schmo really did something.

She said the men would get an official commendation for their combat experience, but the women were lucky to get a certificate and a pat on the back.

It pisses you off, she continued. It does, but what can you do?

Tracey, 28, house committee chairwoman of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4075 on Second Street, said women were often taken on raids and endured the same risks as men.

Out of sensibility for Islamic customs which prevented male soldiers from touching female Iraqis she was often asked to search women and children for weapons.

You have to really worry about whether this small child who is coming up to you, who is 8 or 9, do they have explosives attached to their chest or are they really asking for food? she said.

Yet despite what she went through, Tracey, who is on service-related disability, said civilians still doubt she served in combat roles. At the Veterans Administration hospital, she said doctors have treated her as if she was never truly in combat and have suggested men have it harder.

What do you think, that I was there sitting at a desk? she asked.

She said even her husband, who has not served in the military, has expressed doubts about the lifting of the combat ban, believing male soldiers will be more inclined to protect females in combat.

She said chivalry was one of the first things she had to forget upon joining the military and entering a war where there were no true distinctions between the front and back lines.

Having lived it, I have to call it a charade that theres a ban, she said.

Capt. Andi Hahn, 29, is a public affairs officer for the Kentucky Army National Guard post in Frankfort. Shes been deployed to Iraq twice during the peak and ending of the war and Afghanistan once.

At 23, she led a platoon of 30 soldiers, 26 of who were men, during the troop surge in her first Iraq deployment in 2006. She ran supplies and did base defense, making life or death decisions for her troops.

I feel like I aged 10 years when I went there, Hahn said.

She returned in 2011 to document the drawdown, traveling to 22 bases across Iraq as a military journalist.

In Afghanistan, she was a media escort. But despite all shes done, Hahn wants to become something that still may be out of reach for women: a member of the military special forces.

It is unclear whether the military will open up some of the most strenuous jobs to women, even with the lifting of the ban, but Hahn said shes ready for Army Ranger school should she be afforded the opportunity.

I know I can keep up with the guys, she said.

Hahn used to wear a Ranger shirt, and people teased her because she couldnt become one. But she told them she would do it.

But now I have to back that up, she said, laughing.

Hahn said she values besting her male comrades, and wants military physical standards to be maintained after combat roles are opened to women.

She said current women soldiers get enough flak already for having lower push-up and two-mile run time requirements on the Army Physical Fitness Test.

Thats why Hahn always maxes out her score using the mens requirements.

Just to shove it in their face, Hahn said, again laughing. Thats 77 push-ups, 82 sit-ups and a 13:18 two-mile run.

She said her wartime experiences showed her the line between combat and non-combat roles and men and women wasnt black and white.

I wasnt an infantryman, but I was on the street getting blown up. I carried two weapons with me, she said. Were doing everything out there.

Jennifer Rosell, 28, is another Iraq veteran and member of the Second Street VFW post. Rosell deployed to Kuwait in 2003, where she tracked casualties for the U.S. military plus the British Army. She retired from the Army as a specialist.

Rosell, who joined the military in 2002 right out of high school, said she supported lifting the combat ban while maintaining tough physical requirements for all soldiers.

If they can meet that standard, then there should be nothing else holding them back, Rosell said, adding that shed be proud to see a woman in the special forces.

Rosell said shes heard those who oppose lifting the ban cite the chivalry theory and the possibility women could get pregnant on long combat deployments. She said she understands those arguments but she believes the men will treat women equally, as she felt treated during her service.

Youre all there for each other, she said. Whether youre a guy or a girl shouldnt change it.