Stars & Stripes

Books: Author makes case for females in direct-combat units

By Jason Chudy, Stars and Stripes

Scene, Sunday, July 23, 2006

Erin Solaro believes that all American citizens should be able to serve their country in military ground combat units.

And by “all American citizens,” Solaro means women, too.

The former Army officer’s book, “Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know About Women in the Military,” takes the stand that women deserve the right serve in direct-combat units, such as Army infantry and artillery. It’s their right — and responsibility — as American citizens to have that opportunity, if they so choose.

Solaro’s book is extremely well researched, focusing not only on studies done by military, government and civilian groups and interviews with former military and civilian leaders, but also by first-person research done with women combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Solaro’s opening chapter, “A Knife Under My Pillow,” brings out her fears of some military men and seemed to say that if women can’t be safe when they’re traveling independently between units, then maybe the military has a much bigger problem to tackle before officials worrying about fully integrating combat units.

The remaining chapters, however, focus on her main argument, and are presented in a no-nonsense, logical manner. Solaro covers all the “hot” issues that people use against allowing women full access to all military jobs, including women’s physical strength to unintended — or intended pregnancies — that make women miss part of, or even entire, deployments.

Solaro’s reaction of disgust to a female soldier who becomes pregnant to get out of serving her entire tour in Iraq shows readers her understanding of one of those concerns. She may not agree with many of the arguments that some people use to hold women from these jobs, but she addresses them, and addresses them well.

As well researched and argued as it is, “Women in the Line of Fire” will probably not change the minds of men — and women — who truly believe that women shouldn’t be allowed in combat.

It will, conversely, serve as a concrete validation for those who believe women should be allowed to serve in combat units.

Its most compelling argument — that women are already serving with direct combat units, even though they’re not “assigned” to them — could well sway many of those sitting on the fence.

Any on-the-fence military members who end up serving in Iraq or Afghanistan will have more than Solaro’s words on which to base their decisions; they’ll probably see it for themselves.

“… men and women were engaging in the traditionally all-male domain of offensive combat together, increasingly as equals,” she writes in her chapter “The Lionesses of Iraq,” in which she spends the time with female soldiers going on operations with all-male artillery and engineer units.

“By December 2003, the barriers preventing women from serving in direct ground combat were breaking down under the demands of military necessity and simple, soldierly morality,” she writes in another chapter.

“The military can no longer make the case that women are not needed, or that the continued denial of women’s full equality under arms has any rational relationship to the national security. Such arguments are now, to put it mildly, OBE. Overtaken by events.”

“Women in the Line of Fire” is a scholarly, rather than simple, read, but it is definitely worth reading for anyone with an interest in the current and future state of the U.S. military.

Maybe a not-so-far-in-the-future state, Solaro hopes, in which women will exercise their full rights as citizens and where, when they join that infantry battalion in Iraq, they find “an overwhelming number of guys who regard her as a sister (in addition to the few who want to try and hit on her), making sure she’s treated as a good medic, or good mechanic, or good cook — in short, looking out for her as a soldier who happens to be a woman.”

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