UI officials, students offer mixed responses on women combat roles


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Women may now share in the action.

The Pentagon lifted its long-standing policy barring women from serving in combat positions in the military on Jan. 24, and University of Iowa officials say the policy is only now reflecting reality.

“I think this is going to be a nonevent,” said John Mikelson, a UI Veterans Center coordinator. “Much like the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Everyone was afraid it was going to affect readiness, and it has made no difference in the soldiers, sailors, airman, and Marines who serve this great country.”

Mikelson said women have served in what is considered to be combat roles in the past, such as flying fighter planes. The lifting of the policy will allow women to advance higher in military ranks and achieve higher success, he said, something denied to many women because of the limitations on their capacity to serve.

“I don’t think this is going to have any significant change because it doesn’t change the reality of how things are done,” he said. “It’s just a questions of policy catching up in reality.”

Anthony Wolf, a UI assistant professor of military science, said he doesn’t expect the lifting of the policy will significantly affect the recruitment numbers for UI ROTC.

Wolf, the ROTC scholarship and recruitment officer since 2007, said the number of women in the program has fluctuated: It has been as low as one in a class of 18 in 2009 to as high as the current sophomore class, which has nine of 25. Wolf said he hopes to continue to increase female recruitment.

In terms of the number of women being trained in combat, he said, it is too early to tell, but he doesn’t expect a large increase in the number of women joining the military because of the policy change.

“I just don’t see it’s going to be an overwhelming wave,” Wolf said. “I think more women will take that opportunity, [but] I don’t think you’re going to see a huge spike in that.”

Despite his prediction that there will not be an overwhelming spike in interest, Wolf said it is good that the policy was lifted.

“There shouldn’t be any limitations,” he said. “If a woman wants to experience that, she should experience that.”

Sanyo Hyman, a sophomore in the UI ROTC program, said she thinks the policy being lifted presents great opportunities for women.

“I believe that the [new] policy would absolutely give greater opportunity for women, including advancing in rank,” she said. “I believe that women are able to do just as much as any other person and that we take every single situation just as serious as any one else.”

Inactive Army soldier Ashley Jenkins, who served in Najaf, Iraq, said that while she thinks women can do almost anything men can do, she doesn’t approve of the revocation of policy.

“I don’t like it only because usually women in combat situations make things more stressful than without,” said UI junior Jenkins.  “Men that are in those units have gone through the training and everything together, and if you throw a woman into the mix, then you have a woman you’re sniffing after, and it creates tension.”

Jenkins said she has met capable women who could be qualified to serve in combat during her experience, but they have been few and far between.

“I think some women will jump on it and think, ‘Sweet, I want to be GI Jane,’ ” Jenkins said. “In my experience, those aren’t the women who work best in all-male units because they are trying to be the center of attention.”

UI freshman Rob McCallan, who served 12 years in the Army, said he, too, has some concerns about women entering combat. 

McCallan said the primary two concerns are equal physical standards and medical testing. If they do the same work as men, their physical training standards should be equal, and they currently are not, he said.

McCallan also said women have unique health concerns, and there needs to be testing done to assess how a woman’s body will respond to different combat situations.

“There needs to be a lot more medical testing,” he said. “There are just too many unknowns.”

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