Women in the trenches
Reaction is mixed on the Western Slope after the historic announcement last week that the Pentagon has lifted its ban on women serving in combat roles in the military.
The new ruling was a hot topic last weekend during training, said Amber Sigler, a engineering aide with the U.S. Navy Reserves.
“It’s a different concept,” said Sigler of Grand Junction. “I think that holding (women) to the same physical standards (as men) is a good place to start.”
More than 250,000 women have been deployed in the past decade to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 150 women giving the ultimate sacrifice. About 1.4 million women serve in active military roles. But since 1994, women have been banned from combat roles that could place them on the front lines. Some contest that allowing women to serve in all of the military’s roles will help them advance to higher ranks.
Sigler, 34, has been a Seabee—a member of the Navy construction battalions—for six years and has never been deployed, but she’s been told to expect a deployment. She also works as an engineering technician at Huddleston-Berry Engineering in Grand Junction.
In her job with the Navy, she works somewhat as a construction worker and would not necessarily be in harm’s way.
“Our motto is, ‘We build. We fight,’ ‘’ she said. “We’re trained to protect ourselves, but we’re there to get the job done.”
The thought that being able to serve in combat roles would open further avenues for advancement is “blowing it out of proportion,” she said.
“I’m a female and I have advanced very quickly,” she said, citing her ranking as an E6.
Still, having women in combat roles is new territory.
“What happens if there’s a draft? What happens if there’s a female POW?” Sigler said.
Grand Junction Fire Department firefighter Liberty Palmer welcomes the military’s changes.
“If they can do the same job as the guys, then why not?” she said.
Physical requirements are the same for both genders at the Fire Department as well as at the Grand Junction Police Department. Fitness standards at the Fire Department require mostly upper body strength, which typically make it difficult for women to pass, she said.
Palmer, the fifth female hired at the department and the first female to graduate from the department’s recruit academy, said she adopted specific techniques to be able to pass the drills.
Tests include climbing stairs with weighted water hoses and dragging a dummy weighing about 150 pounds about as many feet. Those feats and several others must be completed within 7 1/2 minutes.
“I think it has to be the same, otherwise guys would say she’s not really qualified,” Palmer said about the military streamlining its physical requirements.
Currently, military physical tests include a regimen of two minutes each of sit-ups and push-ups and a timed run or another aerobic activity.
For example, in the U.S. Army’s physical fitness test, women must score at least 60 percent of whatever men who pass the tests score. Scoring also is rated by age groups. A women between the age of 17 and 21 must complete the two-mile run at least two minutes faster than women in the 27- to 31-year-old range.
The Western Slope has seen 15 women sign up for service in the Army from October 2011 to December 2012, according to spokeswoman Deborah Cannon. Jobs include those in the medical field, communications, aviation, logistics, police, explosive ordnance disposal and chemical, biological and nuclear specialist.
Kris Baugh, a U.S. Navy veteran who served from 1973 to 1976, said she feels a bit squeamish about the prospect of seeing women on the front lines.
“Would I want my daughter there? No,” she said. “I have never been one to think women should be in full combat. There are so many positions that women belong to in the military. I admire them today. Women are leading the way in all kinds of jobs.”