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Women In Combat: What Do Troops In Afghanistan Think?

Jan 28, 2013
Originally published on January 28, 2013 8:17 pm

The new U.S. military policy on women serving in combat roles was crafted in Washington, but it will play out in places like Afghanistan.

And sitting outside at the military base at the Kabul airport, male and female troops offered their thoughts on what the new policy might mean.

"I wasn't completely surprised with it. It's not anything we haven't discussed before," said Capt. Monica Paden, a military intelligence officer from San Diego. "We have been slowly being integrated into combat arms and into units in support roles."

She admits, though, that there's an element of "be careful what you wish for."

"Women want equality, and we cannot discriminate at this point now. We can't ask for one thing and not another," she says. "We've got to be able to jump into all roles, and it's expected at this point."

Sgt. Stephanie Santoyo, who's from Oregon, said she didn't think the change would have any immediate impact on her, but that could change.

She said that when moving to a new unit, "you'll have more expectations than you currently would, especially if we go to combat arms, infantry units — the bar's going to rise on this."

Meeting The Standards

Paden said this is the central issue: "We will have a tough time with the physical portion of this. That's why we have to be completely honest with ourselves. When we talk about standards and changing it, is there going to be animosity that grows because we can't do the same things physically?"

She concedes that she might not have joined the military if the new policy had been in place then. She says she didn't join to fight on the front lines.

Santoyo says there are other issues, as well.

"The atmosphere in an infantry unit is a lot different than [other] units," she says. "Some females just don't want to be in that type of atmosphere."

She says she can handle anything the guys dish out.

"They want to test you emotionally, physically, see can you keep up with us," she says. "They challenge you. I'm a little competitive, so I'm like, all right, game on."

Spc. Charles Lencioni has several concerns about the policy change.

"As someone who's in combat arms ... I was very, very against this when I heard it come out," he says. "I know that's not a popular opinion. But I feel like we're breaking a system that already works, and we're breaking it for the worse."

He says that only a very small percentage of women could meet the physical standards for infantry positions, and lowering the standards would be harmful to the military.

"I don't see it as an equality issue, I don't see it as females and males work as one team. I feel we already do that," he says.

Lencioni worries that the American public will feel it's discriminatory if only a few women make it into combat ranks, and he believes the public won't like seeing women being treated the way men are sometimes treated in the infantry.

But 1st Sgt. Keith Williams thinks the new policy presents a great opportunity for women.

"Women are tough, women can do the job," he says. "My thing is, if you've got my back, you've been through training I've been through, you are qualified, you can hit that target like I can, then I want to have the female soldier with me. Let the females prove they can hold this standard. My hat's off to that first female that makes it all the way through and that is doing the training and doing the same thing that guys do."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

The new U.S. Defense Department policy allowing women to serve in combat roles may have been crafted in Washington, but it will play out in places like Afghanistan. There's no shortage of debate among troops there about what this decision could mean for women and men serving on the front lines. NPR's Sean Carberry sat down with a group of U.S. troops in Kabul and sent this report.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Sitting outside on the military base at Kabul airport, a group of male and female troops digs into the issue of whether lifting the ban on women in combat will change the Army or them.

CAPTAIN MONICA PADEN: My name is Captain Monica Paden. I'm a military intelligence officer from San Diego, California. I wasn't completely surprised with it. It's not anything that we haven't discussed before. We have been slowly being integrated into combat arms and into units in support roles.

CARBERRY: She admits there is a little bit of a careful-what-you-wish-for element to this.

PADEN: And, OK, women want equality, and we cannot discriminate at this point now. You know, we can't ask for one thing and not another. We've got to be able to jump in all roles. It's expected at this point.

SERGEANT STEPHANIE SANTOYO: I'm Sergeant Stephanie Santoyo. I'm from Oregon stationed with V Corps. I don't think it will impact me currently. But going to different units, it could impact - there'll be more challenges. You'll have more expectations than you currently would, especially if you go to combat arm, infantry unit. The bar is going to rise on this.

CARBERRY: For Captain Paden, this is the central issue.

PADEN: We will have a tough time with the physical portion of this, that's why we have to be completely honest with ourselves. When we talk about standards and changing it, is there going to be animosity that grows because we can't do the same things physically.

CARBERRY: She concedes that she might not have joined the military if the new policy had been in place then. She says she didn't join to fight on the front lines. Sergeant Santoyo says it's not just going to be the physical challenge.

SANTOYO: The atmosphere in an infantry unit's a lot different than specific units. Some females just don't want to be in that type of atmosphere is another concern that comes up as well.

CARBERRY: Though she says she can handle anything the guys will dish out.

SANTOYO: They want to test you emotionally, physically, see, you know, can you keep up with us. They challenge you. I'm a little competitive, so I'm like, all right, game on.

CARBERRY: Specialist Charles Lencioni has several concerns about the policy change.

SPECIALIST CHARLES LENCIONI: I'm going to say as someone who's in combat arms and is going to have this most affect their job, I was very, very against this when I heard it come out. I know it's not a popular opinion, but I feel like we're breaking a system that already works, and we're going to break it for the worst.

CARBERRY: He says that only a very small percentage of women could meet the physical standards for infantry positions, and lowering the standards would be harmful to the military.

LENCIONI: I don't see it as an equality issue. I don't see it as females and males, you know, work as one team. I feel like we already do that.

CARBERRY: Lencioni worries that the American public will feel it's discriminatory if only a few women make it in to combat ranks, and he believes the public won't like seeing women being treated the way men are sometimes treated in the infantry. But, First Sergeant Keith Williams thinks the new policy presents a great opportunity for women.

FIRST SERGEANT KEITH WILLIAMS: Women are tough. Women can do the job. My thing is if you've got my back, you've been through training I've been through, you are qualified, you can hit that target like I can, then I want to have the female soldier with me. Let the females prove that they can hold this standard. My hat's off to that first female that makes it all the way through, and that is doing the training and doing the same thing that guys do.

CARBERRY: Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.