By Tanya Biank, Author
I’m always a bit surprised when asked, “Why would any woman want to serve in combat?”
My answer is simple: Because she can.
I’ve long admired the commitment and courage of our nation’s servicewomen. I’ve learned from them that strength is often borne out of struggle.
Servicewomen have long been an integral part of the military team. Commanders and leaders saw this firsthand in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Their contributions changed attitudes and led to the historic lifting of the women’s combat ban last January.
Today, many leaders want the opportunity to pick from the best pool of candidates, regardless of gender.
Since 9/11, 270,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost 15 percent of the force, with many serving multiple times overseas..
Women in support units have been awarded the combat action badge and combat action ribbon, and almost 900 have received the Purple Heart.
They’ve proven they can protect, defend and lead in combat.
I’ve been around the military all my life and know firsthand that servicewomen are great role models, not only for our daughters and granddaughters, but also for the young men in our lives.
My sister is an active-duty Soldier, and I’ve been there to pin on her rank from second lieutenant to colonel.
As a young lieutenant, she and her female lieutenant friends were my big sisters.
Over the past 25-plus years I’ve watched their lives in the military unfold in tragic and triumphant ways.
I knew their experiences were emblematic of what so many servicewomen face. They were the catalyst for me to write.
Professional success in the military often comes at a personal price for men and women. But women face their own set of issues and circumstances, things they often deal with in private, out of public view — and that’s what I wanted to examine.
These issues include balancing marriage, motherhood and the military mission, the impact of discriminatory labels in the work place, blurred gender roles, and finding the right balance between femininity and military bearing.
I wanted to take a behind-the-scenes look at the sacrifice behind their success. My intent was to show just how courageous these women are on and off the battlefield.
I believe that all service members, regardless of gender, should be allowed to pursue their goals and reach their full potential. That makes for not only a better military, but a better culture, country and society.
While some argue the military shouldn’t be an exercise in social equality, I would argue that gender integration enhances military effectiveness, because the military is no longer discriminating against a talented segment of its workforce based solely on gender.
While we have much to celebrate during Women’s History Month, it would be negligent of me to ignore the unfolding scandal involving nude photos of military women shared without their consent online. It’s a sordid and sad affair, and evidence that attitudes need to continue to evolve.
There is simply no place for sexism and misogyny in a modern military.
I hope this writing and others like it help us better understand, appreciate and learn from the experiences of servicewomen.
When we understand each other, it makes for a stronger and healthier military and society.
Editor’s Note: Tanya Biank is an author and journalist. Her book, “Army Wive,” was the basis for Lifetime TV’s hit series “Army Wives.”
Her second book, “Undaunted: The Real Story of America’s Servicewomen in Today’s Military,” has appeared on a number of military-recommended reading lists.