After graduation, female cadets in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Hopkins will have more to choose from when deciding what branch of the military to join.
For the past 20 years, a ban has been in place that prevents female soldiers and Marines from serving in direct combat ground combat roles. However, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently announced a lift on the ban and that as early as the end of the year, all jobs in infantry, armour and artillery could be open to women. And it’s possible women could be serving in direct combat.
“[The ban] affected the infantry, armour and artillery--branches where there are still ...some restrictions,” senior ROTC Leadership Development Program Officer Jules Szanton said. “[Now] jobs in infantry and armour and those two and a half branches will be open to women.”
The progression will not be immediate. At first, women will be assigned to combat support roles, such as communications, logistics and as drivers, and then inching closer to the front lines in roles like medics, corpsmen and artillery until ultimately being in the heat of battle as combat infantry troops.
Of course, women will still have to measure up to the physical standards necessary to be a member of the various branches.
“[In infantry] they need to be able to carry a rucksack — a heavy backpack — which can weigh as much as 60-80 pounds for an hour,” Szanton said. “A woman would have to be in very good shape, especially if she was lighter, to be able to do that. But it’s not impossible. [And for armor] they should be able to change a tank tread. Single tank treads are 90 pounds. [Again] it’s not impossible.”
Junior Lydia Liang, a cadet with ROTC as well as a member of the Army Reserves, pointed out one of the misconceptions about the lift of the ban.
“The biggest misconception is that this will make women join the infantry and carry 100 plus loads,” Liang said. “There are many different combat arms that require different strengths. Women, like anyone should play to their strengths. That’s probably not carrying about 100 plus loads. There are other combat arms women are just as qualified to do.”
Hopkins ROTC cadets and officers largely agree that there will be no sweeping changes to the way things are done in ROTC. Over a quarter of the battalion, about 27 percent, may be female, but everyone in the battalion undergoes the same physical and mental training programs, leadership experiences, and education. Two of the last three Cadet Battalion Commanders were females. The only tangible change is that now female cadets will have broader choices come graduation.
Liang pointed out that the lift of the ban legitimizes what many women soldiers are already doing.
“I really think the recent decision is really just little more than a formal recognition of the present status quo,” Liang said. “Women are already in combat roles; they’re already doing all these things. This is just acknowledging them for what they’ve done so far.
“As a woman in the military I think women should be allowed to have a combat role. There’s no reason being a woman should disqualify you. Those best qualified should have the job. In many cases it’s a fit, competent, motivated woman who’s qualified to take the job.”
Unlike Liang, junior Alexandra Tanzola, an ROTC cadet, had mixed feelings about the new policy.
“There are women who have already been in combat positions who deserve an equal opportunity… however, the situation is more complex than the media who support the decision realize. There are many long term risks for women in combat roles,” she said.
Tanzola was the only female in the battalion this year to compete at the annual Ranger Challenge competition, which tests a soldier’s skills, strength and mental fortitude. She feels that Hopkins’s ROTC program has always been a place where women are treated completely equal.
Other women involved in Hopkins’s ROTC program were intrigued by the prospect of serving in a combat role.
“Considering we are trained and educated in infantry tactics, it’s compelling to think such training will now become a possibility for a career,” ROTC cadet senior Amy Klivans said.
Klivans feels that it is time for America to adopt this new policy, citing the fact that countries like Israel already allow women to serve in combat.
Questions have been raised as to whether introducing women to combat would hinder military performance. Though the opinions vary, senior Eric Altamura, Battalion Commander in the Hopkins ROTC, believes the decision won’t hinder its effectiveness.
“My generation is used to training alongside extremely competent women,” he said.
Where he was primarily concerned, however, was about the physical requirements for administering certain roles. He noted that in the Armor community, crewmembers of tanks must load fifty-pound rounds into the main gun on a consistent basis. Altamura, like many experts, stressed that the combat standards for both men and women must remain equal.
“These tasks [loading fifty-pound rounds] don’t get easier if a woman is doing them, so the standards for earning the position can’t get easier.”
Experts have assured, however, that physical fitness standards would be unaffected.
Regardless of the initiatives’ eventual outcome, many expressed faith in the decision of the Pentagon.
“I believe the Department of Defense knows what is best and I trust their judgment in deciding what is right for our military” Cadet Henry Chen, a junior, said.