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thedrifter
07-30-05, 06:34 AM
Courtesy of Mark aka The Fontman

Female Marines oppose restrictions on their service
DIANE MOUSKOURIE
Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - Inside an Afghan village, her unit was conducting random searches for Taliban fighters and weapons caches - then they heard what sounded like a cell phone.

That didn't sound right to Marine Sgt. Christine Griego.

"It's a poor country, and, if someone has a cell phone, it means they're doing something they probably shouldn't be," said Griego, an aviations mechanic with Marine Aircraft Group 26, 2nd Marine Air Wing.

That was the first deployment for Griego, 22, who's now stationed at New River Air Station. The Afghan people had become accustomed to Army and Marine troops conducting searches, she said, so some women would try to hide things under their robes and veils.

"Because of the culture and customs of the country, males are not allowed to talk to or look at the women," she said. "It's not uncommon for female Marines and corpsmen to search the women."

Because of that, Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment requested the help of a female Marine.

Griego volunteered.

The thought of women serving in combat - on the front lines, no less - is unsettling to some. Earlier this year, congressional representatives sought to repeal some of the jobs made available to women only within the last few years. The debate flared again following an attack in Iraq late last month on a convoy of female troops. A 21-year-old Camp Lejeune Marine, Lance Cpl. Holly A. Charette, was killed.

It's a distasteful debate to many of the female Marines serving today.

Women, they say, are trained just as thoroughly as men are. Women, they say, understand the risks and knew them when they decided to sign up.

Is training enough?

"I went on a convoy ... and was walking around with the squadron, carrying my M-16," Griego said. "I did exactly the same things they did. When we encountered females, I searched them to make sure they didn't have anything and kept them moving."

At times, Griego said, she was scared. But she was confident she had the training needed to do the job.

On this particular search, there were two women who looked suspicious to Griego. Searchers cannot hold a weapon while they work because it might go off by accident - or worse, the enemy might get a hold of it.

"One woman had an infant (in one arm) and a bundle of something in another," Griego said. "She had her arms under her burka which was unusual."

Reciting phrases from the Poshtun language, Griego asked the woman to raise her arms.

The woman didn't move.

"So I lifted her arms and saw the muzzle of an AK-47 begin to slip out," she said. "I slapped the gun down."

All the while, the Marine next to her kept his gun aimed at the Afghan woman. But when Griego slapped the gun down, the woman tried to run, she said.

Griego used her martial arts training to tackle her. The team found not only the gun, but several AK-47 magazines.

"All I wanted to do was get the woman on the ground and cuffed," Griego said.

"Every man who I work with has received the same training. "We all have the same capabilities because of the training."

But some would say training is not enough.

In May, House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and House Personnel Subcommittee Chairman John McHugh, R-N.Y., pushed a provision that would have barred all female troops in forward deployed support units from moving to the front lines during combat. Language in the 2006 defense authorization bill would prohibit assigning women to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat.

McHugh's amendment would have left the door open for other restrictions, particularly if the mission involves long-range reconnaissance or Special Operations Forces. But the issue quickly generated partisan turmoil. Army leaders and two associations representing retired Army and National Guard members fought against its passage. The proposed legislation was shot down.

Had it passed, the amendment would have closed nearly 22,000 positions now available to female service members in heavy and infantry brigade combat, according to an article published on GovExec.com.

Army officials argued that the modern battlefield isn't clearly defined, and locking out female troops, they said, would have caused confusion among the ranks.

Some women who serve every day alongside their male counterparts in the Marine Corps say they want to be regarded as Marines first, women second.

Capt. Jennifer Schrantz, a CH-46 helicopter pilot, joined the Marines during her last year of college. She was 21.

"My dad is pretty traditional and believes women have a certain place, so he wasn't real happy about my decision," Schrantz said. "The Marine Corps offered me a guaranteed flight contract, and I took it."

Schrantz said she went through the same rigorous training as the other pilots. In her class, the men outnumbered the women 20 to 1.

Corpswide, there are nearly 9,700 female Marines enlisted today compared to almost 150,000 males. Male officers outnumber the females roughly 18,000 to 1,100, said a spokeswoman at New River Air Station.

Schrantz, 27, deployed to Afghanistan at the same time Griego did. They're in the same squadron.

While in Afghanistan, Schrantz conducted helicopter medevacs. She would fly from Kandahar Air Base, where she was based, to Tarin Kowt to pick up anyone who had been injured. It could be something as small as a bee sting. It could be life or death, she said.

"It gives you a really good feeling to know that you're helping save someone's life," she said. "I could never have had that feeling anywhere else, and I'm glad I had the opportunity."

Women were not allowed to fly in the military until 1991, when the restrictions against women flying combat aircraft were repealed.

During pilot training, Schrantz said, she saw many people - men and women who simply broke down. They couldn't cut it.

"It's hard in the beginning, but a lot of guys wash out, too," she said. "At least 18 percent don't make it. Females get a lot of attention when they don't make it, but you don't see the same for the males."

Schrantz does not believe women should be limited in what they can or cannot do so far as their jobs are concerned. If that means going into combat, so be it.

Other women Marines tend to agree.

"I earned my title as a Marine the same way the men did," Lance Cpl. Tiffannee Girard said. "I'd fight to the death if I had to."

Girard, 20, from Chicago, is trained as a firefighter and emergency medical technician.

She will head to Iraq for the first time in August. "I joined the Marine Corps during wartime, and I knew I would be going out at some point," she said.

Cpl. Rachel Pasco serves in the same unit as Schrantz and Griego. She trained as an aviation mechanic.

"As far as what I'm expected to do, there is a billet description that everyone must follow," Pasco said.

Pasco, too, was based at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan. She joined the Marines two years after 9/11.

"Women have come a long way in our country's history," she said. "People are always going to remember what women were allowed to do and what they were not allowed to do, something we won't ever be able to escape."

In 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. At that time, women were limited to filling 2 percent of the entire military. Today, it's 15 percent.

While restrictions for women flying combat aircraft were repealed in 1991, the 1948 law still banned women from serving on combat vessels.

Then in 1994, the Defense Department opened previously closed billets in aviation, including attack helicopters, to women.

The official policy of the Army and Marine Corps still excludes women from filling combat and infantry billets.

The largest single deployment of American military women occurred in 1991 during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. More than 41,000 women deployed; five died. Two were captured as prisoners of war.

Kathy Hoxie, a veteran Marine and civilian air traffic controller based at New River Air Station, was among the 41,000 women who served in the first Gulf War. She was an air traffic controller in the Marine Corps from 1986 until 1997.

Hoxie has mixed feelings about women serving in combat. As a rule, there are certain jobs that women simply shouldn't do - some of the ground combat jobs, she said.

"On the same note, I do believe that there are some women out there who would be better at those jobs then some of the men," Hoxie said. "I don't think it's because of a lack of desire but the mere fact that there are physical differences that will never change.

"Typically, men are physically stronger."

In the Persian Gulf, Hoxie said, she did exactly what the men did.

"I was initially sent over with a combat replacement company filled with many infantry Marines who had never worked with a woman before," she said. "I was one of two women in my company and one of the senior Marines. I did not know tactics because I had never been taught that, but I did have the smarts to learn quickly and step up to the plate."
Information from: The Daily News, http://www.jdnews.com


Ellie