The topic of women in combat remains controversial. Conventional wisdom and current law prevent women, no matter how able, from serving in units with direct offensive combat missions — Infantry, Armor, Artillery and Special Forces. The justifications for this exclusion include that women are not fit for combat and battlefield stress because they lack the emotional stability and physical strength. The media has often proffered that American’s would not stand to see their daughters coming home in body bags, missing limbs or badly disfigured. The purported fear and outcry of a woman’s violent death from enemy fire has not materialized during the war on terror. The deaths of women soldiers have provoked no more and no less reaction than the deaths of male soldiers. In reality, the strained Armed Forces need women in the fight. Circumstances have eclipsed arguments, and few in the military and government are anxious to rekindle the debate.
The combat exclusion policy was implemented for a linear battlefield with front and rear lines of combat clearly demarcated. Today’s battlefield is asymmetrical, and the soldiers prosecuting the war engage in combat in 360 degrees. The fact is women are everywhere on the battlefield.
Specialist Monica Brown is one of these soldiers. Brown was “on loan” to 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, an infantry unit in Afghanistan. Specialist Brown saved the lives of two fellow soldiers who were seriously injured when their four vehicle convoy was ambushed and a road side bomb exploded under the fourth vehicle setting it ablaze. The particular vehicle hit was loaded with nearly a thousand pounds of grenades that began exploding and sending shrapnel into the air like fireworks. Brown ran through mortar and gunfire and used her body to shield two of the severely wounded soldiers from further injury and death. When interviewed on 60 Minutes, Specialist Brown says she was just doing her job. She displayed confidence, candor and self-awareness as the interview tried to understand what motivated her to risk her own life.
The military said Brown’s “bravery, unselfish actions and medical aid rendered under fire saved the lives of her comrades and represents the finest traditions of heroism in combat.” Brown, an 18-year old medic, was awarded the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest medal for valor. She is only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star.
Apparently, at least of one soldiers whom she saved feels another way. According to the interviewer, he declined to be interviewed for the story because he did not believe women should be in the unit.
Should women be on the front lines? Why are we still asking this question? Women are on the front lines. Two more soldiers are alive today because Specialist Monica Brown did her job.