Operation Iraqi Freedom

Americans were surprised to learn of the plight of an enlisted woman captured as the first female prisoner of war in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson, 30-year-old single mother of a two-year-old daughter, was seen on videotape, terrified, in the hands of Iraqi irregulars. Her captors had just killed and desecrated the bodies of several soldiers taken prisoner when their Army maintenance unit went astray on March 23. Later came the news that Pfc. Jessica Lynch, a supply clerk, is missing from the same unit.

These women and their surviving colleagues are in mortal peril, but leave it to doctrinaire feminists to celebrate their plight as a “victory” for women’s rights. These incidents bring to mind the story of Army Col. Rhonda Cornum, a flight surgeon captured during the 1991-92 Gulf War. Then-Maj Cornum, a staunch advocate of women in combat, was subjected to “sexual indecencies” within hours of her capture. She was released eight days later, but said nothing in public about the sexual assault for more than a year. Advocates of women in combat often talk about “sharing the risk” of war, but the truth is that women face unequal and greater risks.

The vulnerabilities unique to women can and probably will be exploited by enemy captors in this and similar situations as the war on terrorism continues. All these were happening because rules governing the assignment of women in the military were changed dramatically during the Clinton administration. Prior to 1994, the various services had definitions of “direct combat” that included such elements as physical proximity with hostile forces, reconnoitering the enemy with an inherent risk of capture, and engaging the enemy with fire, maneuver, or shock effect in contested territory, waters, or airspace.

The exact definition of combat is important, since close combat is more than the experience of being shot at or operating in a war zone. But in 1994, then-secretary of defense Les Aspin redefined “direct ground combat,” and eliminated “inherent risk of capture” as a factor to consider in exempting women from serving in units previously defined as close combat. To open up even more “career opportunities” for women, Secretary Aspin also eliminated the Defense Department’s “Risk Rule”a regulation intended to exempt women in non-combat positions from being assigned close to the front lines.

Because of these changes, thousands of military women were serving at greater risk in Iraq than anyone would have expected less than a decade ago. Now the unwise policies ordered by Clinton and Aspin are being put to the test. The technological advances in Operation Iraqi Freedom have been truly amazing. But all the social engineering in the world cannot change the fact that there is nothing “fair” or “equal” about warfare. Women in uniform face unequal risks, and the American people need to think hard about what that really means. In 1995 the Royal Norwegian Navy became the first navy in the world to appoint female submarine captain.

In 1998, the Royal Australian navy became the second nation to allow women to serve on combat submarines. Canada and Spain followed in permitting women to serve on military submarines, however all other nations still prevent women from serving on them. The reasons for exempting women from submarines are: lack of privacy and ‘hot bunking’ or ‘hot racking’ due to lack of space, which is a common practice on submarines where three sailors share two bunks on a rotating basis. There was also reference of females of child bearing age as certain chemical present in the recycled air on board submerged submarines can be harmful to unborn children.

The US Navy permits women to serve on almost every other ship in the fleet only allows three exceptions for women being on board military submarines: female civilian technicians for a few days at most , women midshipmen on overnight during summer training for both vany ROTC and Naval Academy, Family members for one-day dependent cruises. It costs $300,000 per bunk to permit a woman to serve on submarines against $4,000 per bunk to allow women to serve on aircraft carriers as per US Navy.