Midstate veterans, military members speak out on lifting combat ban for women

wcrenshaw@macon.comJanuary 25, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Shortly after Pat Delaney joined the Air Force in 1968, she volunteered to go to Vietnam.

It always bugged her that she wasn’t allowed to go.

“I did it because I wanted to go,” said the Warner Robins resident, who served 21 years. “During that time there were draft dodgers, and I said if I joined I wanted to be there and do my part.”

Naturally, she was pleased when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced this week that the ban on women serving in direct combat roles had been lifted. Delaney and other veterans, as well as current military members, said it really isn’t that big of a change because in recent years women have been steadily working more assignments that put them in combat situations.

When Delaney served, about the only women sent to Vietnam were nurses. Today women are serving in a wide variety of roles, including convoy escorts where they can easily end up fighting.

“It has already been happening,” she said. “They need to do it because there aren’t enough men.”

At the VFW Memorial Post 6605 in Warner Robins, Army veteran Bob Siebenmorgan had a similar view.

“They serve in combat as pilots,” said Siebenmorgan. “It’s not really a big change.”

Air Force veteran Earl Spires said he didn’t have a problem with it as long as the standards were the same.

“You have an aptitude test you have to pass,” he said. “If a female can cut it, all well and good.”

The change won’t impact the Air Force as much as the Army and Marines. Tech Sgt. Robert Lipham, Robins Air Force Base spokesman, said 99 percent of career fields in the Air Force are open to women. The only exclusion until now had been special operations forces.

Chrissy Miner, an Air Force Reserve captain, said she has some mixed feelings about lifting the ban as it applies to the unique duties of special operations.

“Obviously, I’m for equal opportunity for all sexes,” said Miner, who works for the 21st Century Partnership. “But if women are looking at special operations, I think there are very significant challenges.”

She questioned, for example, how separate quarters would be maintained when special operations units are in the field for days or weeks at a time.

Staff Sgt. Donnie Feliciano, a ground-support specialist serving at Robins, said he has no problem with the change as long as the standards are the same. He is concerned, however, that the standards may be lowered for men and women to allow more women to serve in combat.

“If someone is fit to do the job, then I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “But the standards need to be fair.”

Defense leaders said that no physical standards will be lowered just to send more women closer to the battlefront.“I fundamentally believe that our military is more effective when success is based solely on ability and qualifications and on performance,” Panetta said Thursday at a Pentagon news conference.“Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance.”

Pat Tooley, who served 32 years in the Air Force before retiring as a senior master sergeant, said rights for women in the military have come a long way since she joined. To her, this week’s announcement erased the last bastion of discrimination.

She joined during the Vietnam era and was trained as a medic. She wanted to serve in the combat zone but could only treat wounded soldiers once they arrived home.

Roles in which women were allowed to serve have steadily been increasing, she said.

“It’s probably long overdue because women have been fighting along with men for years,” she said. “There was probably a lot of things I would have enjoyed doing that I couldn’t do because of the ban.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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