Thursday was a day Third Army Col. Nanette Gallant had waited a long time for. Twenty-nine years, to be exact.
That day, the announcement was made that a decades-old ban on allowing women to serve in combat roles within the U.S. military was lifted, bringing “recognition to what the rest of us have recognized for a long time,” Gallant said.
The ban, originally put in place in 1994, barred females from serving in direct combat roles. Even though they’ve been fighting and dying in conflicts for just as long, women have never been able to directly volunteer for combat positions within any branch.
“I don’t understand how anyone in this field can be discriminated against,” said Gallant, the chief of Third Army’s information operations division. “I’ve always thought that if you are capable of doing this job, I don’t care if you’re black or white or gay or straight or male or female. If you can do this job and you want to, you should be able to.”
Had Gallant had the opportunity to serve in a direct combat role, she would have. Instead, she’s earned a range of qualifications during her career, including becoming a master-rated jumpmaster, completing the U.S. Army Pathfinder School, earning her Parachute Rigger Badge and more.
But even with all those qualifications and supplemental training, not having combat experience on your record is sometimes a detriment, said Maj. Elizabeth Alexander.
“Everyone wants the opportunity to progress. If I had combat arms experience on my record, if they had opened the door to have any opportunity, you have that progression,” she said.
Many of the complaints from opponents of lifting the ban focus on the physical requirements needed in a combat role and the concern those standards would be lowered to accommodate women.
Alexander doesn’t think that’ll be the case and said that assumption undermines the capabilities of females in uniform.
“There are facets to that physicality. There’s infantry, there’s artillery, and those are combat roles, but they require different physical needs, and it’s not really an issue in some arenas,” she said. “There may be a small percentage of women who can’t handle it, but those who want combat roles know what they need to do.” For younger soldiers, such as human resources officer Sgt. Daisy Pruitt, combat roles aren’t something they desire. But that doesn’t mean they don’t respect the confidence it puts in women.
“Being a female in the military, you feel like you have to be one step ahead of the men. I personally have never felt discriminated against, but it is still a boys’ club. You still have to prove yourself,” said Pruitt. As for why it took so long for the ban to be lifted, Alexander said there’s still a socialized idea of male and female roles.
“Maybe there’s a tendency or instinct for males to want to protect females,” she said. “There may be a pause when a change like this comes around. It’s not part of our society to have women put in harm’s way.”
Gallant knows women can take it. To her, any criticism that could be applied to a female soldier — they’re too weak, they’re emotional, they can’t handle criticism — can just as easily be applied to males.
She expects more critique and criticism regarding the ban’s lifting, but for now, she’s celebrating what she calls a long-overdue change. Reach Nick McCormac at (803) 774-1214.