Marine pioneering effort to move women into combat

Defense department slowly opening jobs for female fighters

By Julie Watson

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 1 2012 11:50 p.m. MST

"I have heard, you know, whisperings, like 'Hey, before you got here we decided to maybe take down some pictures and clean up our language a little bit,' but other than that, they haven't really expressed anything to me," said Soublet, who will remain two years in her battalion and is expected to deploy with them to Afghanistan this spring.

The Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos said he met with the top leaders of the 19 battalions and told them to establish the proper command climate. The early steps of assigning females to artillery, tank, combat engineer and other all-male battalions have been successful, but there may be some anxiety if women join infantry, Amos said.

Camp Pendleton combat Marine Carlos Laguna, who left the Corps in 2011, agreed.

"The screams of women, they have a big psychological effect on men. A woman just has a different pitch," said Laguna, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours in Iraq. "If we're in a firefight and a woman is shot or lost her arm, male Marines like me would want to stop and help. It's our nature to help women."

The survey addressed those concerns, asking males if they would be distracted or "feel obligated to protect female Marines." It also asked whether women would be limited because of pregnancy or personal issues.

Female Marines were asked if they would feel pressured to suppress their femininity.

Former Marine Capt. Kristen Kavanaugh, who runs The Military Acceptance Project, a San Diego-based organization promoting equality in the services, found those questions offensive.

"I don't think women who signed up to give their life for their country are worried about the appearance of their femininity," she said.

Former Camp Pendleton Marine Capt. Anu Bhagwati was only the second woman to complete a martial arts instructor training school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques. But she said years of discrimination caused her to quit in 2004.

"I learned early on that the Marine Corps will expect you to fail if you are a woman," said the head of the Service Women's Action Network, which helped the women file the lawsuit. "I faced so much discrimination and sexual harassment that it made me wonder why I was serving."

Soublet said in her three years in the Corps she has found her fellow Marines to be respectful and professional.

"This isn't a big deal," she said. "We're Marines, we're here to do a job and it doesn't matter what our gender is."

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