U.S. Army Maj. Maya Best didn’t wait for the Pentagon’s OK this week to enter combat zones in Iraq. She was there in 2007. The Florida native who lives in Milan said that as a battalion signal officer, she often went into the line of sniper fire to set up antennas to assist air missions.

One assignment had her crawling on the roof of a Baghdad high-rise after dark. If she stood up, she could have been shot, as snipers targeted the building near Camp Loyalty.

“It shakes you up pretty good when tracers and rounds are going off above your head,” Best said.

The assignments required her to don full combat gear, including a Kevlar vest, eye protection and 210 rounds of ammunition, or what Best called “full battle rattle.”

She shared her wartime experiences Thursday at First Army headquarters on Arsenal Island as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the

military will lift its ban on women serving in combat roles.

Maj. Gen. Michael Smith, First Army deputy commanding general for support, said the decision opens 237,000 positions to women, including posts on the front line.

“It’s a great day for the Army,” he said.

He said wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given the military “ample evidence” over 10 years that women can do the jobs men can.

“Women have been in direct action combat,” he said. “They’ve given their lives and served honorably.”

In 10 years, 200,000 women have served in the military, he said, adding women currently make up 14 percent of the Army.

Of the 26 members of the armed forces from the Quad-Cities who have died in the line of duty since 2003, two were women. U.S. Army Pfc. Katie M. Soenksen, 19, of Davenport, died May 2, 2007, in Baghdad of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near her vehicle. Sgt. Jessica M. Housby of Rock Island was killed Feb. 9, 2005. She served with the 1644th Transportation Unit, Illinois National Guard, Rock Falls.

Col. Greg Hapgood, public relations officer for the Iowa National Guard, said the change will have “minimal impact” on Guard operations because men and women have been in combat with one another since 2003.

“In today’s combat, there really are no front lines. Anyone or any unit is a target. We have women in units as medics and administrative roles that are targets not limited by geography,” he said. “Today’s announcement won’t change our operational footprint.”

About 1,300 of the Guard’s 7,300 members are women.

Hapgood said the change likely will give females in the Guard more opportunities to serve in a variety of roles.

Smith said all branches of the military will review how the decision will affect training and other areas and report back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in May. He said the Army has yet to conduct a detailed review of its training procedures.

Best said she has come across female soldiers who are “tough as nails.”

“They can go toe to toe with the infantry guys any day,” she said. “If a female wants to meet the Army’s highest standards, there’s no reason she shouldn’t be allowed.

“This is the Army. It’s what we do. We’re trained to defend our country. Male and female, we work as a team to keep our buddy safe and get home safely.”

Smith said the Army seeks the best qualified and now women can compete for every position.

“It’ll become a very competitive place,” he said.

(Mike Wiser contributed to this story.)

(7) comments

senor citizen

Women in combat should have happened years ago, they need the combat experience if they are to advance in rank. Were the miltary to rely on conscripts as in the past, war would lose it's appeal. In past conscripts acted a buffer to think twice before invading a nation due to all males possible mandatory service, and the possibilty of being in harm's way. This kept the U.S. from being enamored with war as both the military and civilian populace is today. I would expect the nation to become outraged when the first rape or torture of women is publicized, as few know the true nature of war,

Klaatu
Klaatu

I don't have a problem with it generally, but I know that boot camp physical requirements are not the same for men and women. Women don't have to do real push-ups or pull-ups. They simply are not as strong as men and there isn't anything that can be done about that. When it comes to hand-eye co-ordination women may have an advantage, but I hope this doesn't cause problems, and I can see some potential problems arising.

twiggy
twiggy

It is about time! Of course women should be allowed in combat. "women cannot tote the same pack as a man", what a stupid statement. They will have to meet the same requirements as men. I assume there are lots of men who can not pass the physical requirements, and are not accepted. That decision is made on an individual basis, not a gender wide basis.. To say all women can or can not do something, based solely on their gender, is just stupid. Thankfully, that attitude is on the way out.

Klaatu
Klaatu

The problem is that a women cannot tote the same pack as a man. She can't carry her share of the ordinance, and that can't be negated by passing a regulation or changing the rules. I guess we will have to wait and see how it works out.

taking the long way

There are different requirements for different jobs. If the job requires carrying a pack that weighs x pounds, then that should be required whether a man or a woman is doing the job.

aequitas
aequitas

I completely agree, taking the long way. As the policy change was described, a woman would have to meet the same requirements of the jobs being opened under this change.

JGWalton

SHE LOOKS LIKE SHE COULD HANDLE HERSELF,MOST WOMEN I KNOW NOT THAT WAY

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