Community Voices

Sunday, Feb 03 2013 11:00 PM

TERRY MEIER: Give a girl a helmet and a mission and watch what can happen

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    Terry Meier

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Regarding the Jan. 30 letter "Girls, er, women should know the realities of combat," I have news: Women already know. And to suggest that "ladies" interested in combat roles simply "want their share of glory" is ignorant and ludicrous.

It's clear to me that the writer is a member of the old guard that thinks all women are gentle, delicate and suited only for dressing wounds, serving meals and pushing paper in the military.

My daughter is a decorated soldier in the U.S. Army. She has served two tours of duty in Iraq. The first was in 2003, a time those who were there say was like living in the Wild West. They slept in trenches, they slept on top of their vehicles and, for days, they slept not at all.

My "gentle little girl" received a commendation medal for valor in combat. While some of her male comrades were frozen in fear, she ran to a burning Humvee and pulled a dying soldier out. She stayed with him and witnessed his last breath.

She was present when Fallujah erupted into a riot, and she and her fellow soldiers had to quell and control angry crowds armed with knives that could have been easily slipped under her protective vest and killed her. She did not run or waver in her mission.

She was seriously injured when a roadside bomb exploded under her Humvee, killed two people who were near it, and blew her out of it. She could have received a Purple Heart for that, but she declined, believing her injuries -- cuts, contusions and permanent hearing loss in one ear -- were not serious enough to merit such a prestigious award.

She is not a nurse. She is not a cook. She is not a secretary for an officer. She is an EOD tech: explosive ordnance disposal specialist. That's right -- she's in the bomb squad. And she was never, to use the previous letter writer's word, on a "pedestal."

She volunteered for her unit. Military personnel cannot be assigned to this very dangerous job. She passed with flying colors a nine-month training course that many, many men fail.

I have met most of the men she has served with, both enlisted and officers, and they say she is one of the bravest, finest and most dedicated soldiers they have ever served with. They also admit having had serious reservations about working with "a girl" when they learned she was part of their unit. But today they don't care that she's female, and some have told me that when things go badly, they hope she's there to have their backs.

There's nothing glorious about witnessing people blowing themselves and children to bits and then having to retrieve what's left of their bodies. There's nothing glorious about being scared that the next IED will kill you, or that the civilian who is your friend during the day may come back and kill you at night. There's nothing glorious about being a soldier in the field who has sworn to protect the lives of fellow soldiers and innocent civilians. It's a mission that not all are equipped either physically or mentally to carry out. And there is a dearth of men or women who "relish" combat.

Granted, it's a calling that not everyone can answer, but those who do must be able to take what is dished out. Gender is not an issue -- commitment and ability are.

Those who say that women should fear the battlefield because of the risk of being taken prisoner clearly are alluding to the possibility of rape. Those naysayers should read the statistics more carefully. Women are in much greater danger of being raped off the battlefield in their own communities and within their own ranks in the military.

Furthermore, the question of gender-specific torture in captivity is a nonissue. Torture is torture -- suffering does not know gender.

My soldier may not be able to win at arm wrestling, but she can wear a 70-pound protective suit, walk out to a live bomb and defuse it with her bare hands. She can dismantle and reassemble any weapon she is presented with, load it, fire it, and hit the target dead-on. She can lead men on a dangerous mission they aren't certain they will return from. Many men cannot do all that.

The time to stop seeing women as inferior and at greater risk of failure in combat is now. Women and men are not created equal -- some of them are warriors, and those warriors, male or female, are equal on the battlefield.

Yes, some women do have steel huevos . Theirs happen to be on the inside .

Terry Meier of Bakersfield is an adjunct professor of English at Bakersfield College and the mother of three girls.

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