The Lifting on the Combat Ban for Women
by Captain Erin Stevens
When I reported to my first unit, the bulk of the brigade was already deployed to Iraq and there was a fair amount of confusion over my assignment. “We don’t know what battalion you’ll go to,” the admin section said. “Just hold tight and we’ll find out.”
A few weeks later, I was told that I was assigned to the brigade headquarters, but would work for one of the combined arms battalion as their assistance intelligence officer. A new lieutenant, I sought some guidance from the Rear-Detachment commander, a captain (O-3) who ran the battalion’s daily functions at Fort Hood. He told me firmly, “I would get your orders checked. This is an infantry battalion. We don’t have any women.” He hung up.
In the end, I did report to the battalion in Iraq, and I did act as the assistant intelligence officer, despite the Rear-Detachment commander’s insistence that I didn’t belong. Moreover, I regularly accompanied the battalion commander on his patrols in Eastern Baghdad and thrived despite the fact that I was the lone female officer in the unit. And when we redeployed to Fort Hood, the battalion commander requested that I stay on as his primary intelligence officer, even as the rest of the brigade moved their women out of the combat units.
As of this past week, combat jobs are officially open to women. But for me, and for many of the women who have served in combat over the past decade, this decision doesn’t necessarily alter our career trajectories. Despite the fact that I am a woman, I spent my deployments—to both Iraq and Afghanistan—out with the infantry. Either in combat vehicles or on foot, I explored these countries outside of the confines of our outposts and forward operating bases. It never occurred to me that I “shouldn’t” be doing so and my leadership never commented otherwise. Moreover, the young, junior enlisted infantrymen and their non-commissioned officers never saw a problem with my presence and welcomed me into their platoons wholeheartedly.
I recognize that my experiences aren’t typical for a female military intelligence officer. I realize that I have been incredibly fortunate to have forward-thinking leadership and open-minded peers and subordinates. I know I’ve been lucky and for that I am thankful.
The women who will be the first to officially pin the crossed rifles of the infantry onto their lapels have a hard road ahead of them. Like any major transition the military has undertaken—racial integration, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell”—there will be an initial struggle. But I’d like to think that I’ve done my small part in paving the way for these women.
Today I am the intelligence officer for a field artillery battalion. For six years I have served with tactical units that have engaged in combat, and I wear a Combat Action Badge on my uniform, which was awarded to me after an improvised explosive device hit the Stryker combat vehicle in which I rode each day. I’ve never felt that my experiences were discounted because I am a woman. I can only hope that the lift of the ban on women in combat will allow more women to feel the same way.
Mitchell Scholar Captain Erin Stevens is the intelligence officer for 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, part of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska. She returned from her most recent deployment to Afghanistan in April 2012.