Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"Women Are Used", retired General says, and she likes it

New York Daily News
December 14, 2004

The Women Of War

In Iraq, death knows no front line, nor gender

By Richard Sisk, Daily News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - America's women in uniform have been fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan in ways never foreseen under the restrictions on women in combat.

Through last week, 27 women had been killed in Iraq and five in Afghanistan and more than 230 had earned the Purple Heart for wounds inflicted by the enemy, according to Pentagon records.

Among those fatally injured in Iraq was Army 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment Sgt. Linda Jimenez, 39, of Brooklyn, who fell into a bomb crater on patrol in November last year and later died at an Army hospital.

The military's 1994 rules limit women's exposure to combat by barring them from serving in front-line infantry, armor and most artillery units, but the enemy's ambushes and terrorist tactics have altered the rules.

Women driving a truck in Iraq or walking a beat as a military policewoman in "support" units in Iraq have instantly taken up the role of the combat grunt, engaging in running firefights with hit-and-run insurgents.

"I think what changed is that Iraq is different," said Army airborne Capt. Kellie McCoy, who shot her way out of an enemy ambush in September 2003 to earn the Bronze Star with combat "V" for valor under fire.

"Our doctrine [on women in combat] was suited for wars with front lines," McCoy said. "In Iraq, the front line is everywhere. Once you leave the [base] camp, you're on the front line," she said.

The new reality of war - and the performance of women in the field - has prompted the Army to examine whether it should formally change its 1994 rules.

"The assignment of women is one of several issues under review" as the Army converts its heavy divisions into lighter and faster combat brigades, said Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman.

"We're not at the point of reaching a decision" on whether mixed military units of men and women would be put on the battlefield alongside all-male land combat units, Robbins said, but the possibility will be discussed with Congress.

But with the concept of the front line erased, the current roster of 224,000 women who make up about 16% of the active-duty military of 1.4 million has taken up duties never envisioned by the 1.8 million women who preceded them in uniform since the American Revolution.

In Vietnam, only eight of the more than 58,000 troops killed were women, and they were all unarmed Army and Air Force nurses, according to the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Foundation.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the women carry weapons. They have been killed and wounded by roadside bombs, mortar attacks and small-arms fire.

Women such as McCoy have led men in battle, and women have flown war planes off carrier decks to bomb enemy positions.

The most recent death was that of the Army's 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion Sgt. Cari Gasiewicz, 28, of Depew, N.Y. Gasiewicz's convoy was hit by two roadside bombs near Baghdad on Dec. 4.

"With each conflict, women are used more than in the previous conflict," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught in assessing the evolving roles of women in uniform.

"In Vietnam, we were restricted on where we could go, we didn't go out on convoys," said Vaught, a Vietnam vet and president of the WIMSA Foundation.

"More than ever before, the military is accepting that women are there to do a job," Vaught said. "If the job takes them in harm's way, well, that's the way it is."

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