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Women's combat support role could end in Iraq

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005519123339
Story by Sgt. Luis R. Agostini

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (May 19, 2005) -- Legislation now before Congress is aimed at making sure female Marines like 2nd Lt. Samantha M. Kronschnabel won't accompany their male comrades into a combat zone anymore - or sustain wounds like Cpl. Steinnum Truesdale, a Purple Heart recipient.

When U.S. Marines launched their offensive last November in Fallujah, Kronschnabel was among them.

"I led the 44 Marines in my platoon from the day we arrived in country and was able to lead my company into the city on D-day," said Kronschnabel, whose platoon of combat engineers served with the Fallujah-based Company C, Combat Service Support Battalion 1, 1st Force Service Support Group.

But if an amendment to the 2006 Defense Authorization Bill passes, female Marines won't be joining infantry Marines - even as combat supporters - in future war zones.

The amendment, introduced May 11 by Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee, would prohibit female servicemembers from serving in combat support units.

The amendment came on the heels of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division's decision to incorporate female soldiers within its ranks in direct support of ground combat units, according to Harold Stavenas, communications director for the House Armed Services Committee.

"We are exposing women to combat more than we should," Stavenas said. "We need to clarify the existing role of women in combat."

Of the approximately 10,780-some female Marines (officer and enlisted) currently serving on active duty, nearly 3,000 serve in combat support fields, including engineering, military police, ordnance and motor transport, according to the almanac section of the 2005 Marine Corps Concepts and Programs manual.

McHugh said the number of female servicemembers affected by the amendment will be marginal.

"It is certainly in no way going to affect any other job classifications," he said.

The amendment is designed to reinforce current Department of Defense policy regarding women in combat. The policy, defined in 1994, prohibits women from directly supporting ground combat below the brigade level, according to Stavenas.

Stavenas admits the amendment's language has gray areas subject to interpretation, since many female servicemembers in several combat support fields can find themselves supporting direct combat.

Meanwhile, female Marines are still providing such front-line support.

Less than three weeks ago, 14 female Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 8, attached to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, helped search for weapons and insurgents in Karmah, Iraq, according to a Stars and Stripes newspaper article.

Moreover, because cultural sensitivities in Iraq preclude male Marines from searching women, the Corps uses female Marines to search local women during sweeps through Iraqi towns.

The current policy does not serve women in the military well because it "places them in a company and treats them as equal until it's time to move forward, and then they have to be left behind," McHugh said.

Kronschnabel and Truesdale, also with 1st FSSG, beg to differ.

During the I Marine Expeditionary Force's 14-month tour in Iraq, Kronschnabel and Truesdale, along with other female Marines, flanked their male counterparts in combat support operations throughout Iraq's deadly Al Anbar province.

"I was the only female in Charlie Company, but was never left behind because of it," said Kronschnabel, 23, from St. Paul, Minn.

Her platoon worked with several Marine and Army infantry companies to establish firm bases inside the city of Fallujah during Operation Al Fajr. Their role included humanitarian assistance after the city was declared secure. They also constructed several polling stations in support of the historic January elections.

Kronschnabel says female combat supporters in Iraq have performed admirably - and that's how history will view their contribution.

"If the bill were passed, it would not take away or discredit the accomplishments of female Marines," Kronschnabel said. "We know that we took care of our Marines and got the job done."

Truesdale sustained severe hearing loss and back injuries when the truck she was driving Aug. 26, 2004, on a supply mission in Iraq was hit by an anti-tank mine.

Truesdale believes combat-support roles for females should not be reduced.

"We train as hard, sometimes harder, to constantly prove ourselves in a male-dominated Marine Corps," she said.

The Corps is the only military branch that trains its Marines - male and female - equally. The amendment should not impact the way Marines lead and train, Kronschnabel said.

"One of the greatest things about the Marine Corps is that we all train together while experiencing the same challenges," Kronschnabel said. "The Marine Corps should not change that, regardless of whether the bill is passed."

The subcommittee was scheduled to meet yesterday to possibly approve the 2006 defense authorization bill. Results of the meeting were not available at press time.


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