A female Marine goes through an obstacle course, one of the tasks of the combat endurance test. (Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)
By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - "Men and women have been serving on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan because there is no front lines," said Missouri National Guard captain Michelle Williams. "The minute we leave our compound we are at the front line. The front line is everywhere. So men and women have been serving side by side."
Matthews served a year in Iraq and will be deployed to Afghanistan later this year. She says women have already proven themselves in combat and they're up to the challenge.
"When I put on all that combat gear, I weight 180 because it's an additional 60 pounds added. Half my body weight added on, but I can hump it like anyone else," she said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday lifted a ban on women in combat, saying it's the responsibility of every citizen to protect the nation.
President Barack Obama said in a statement that the decision is another step toward fulfilling American ideals of equality and fairness. More than 150 American military women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, with another 1,000 wounded in those wars.
During his three years in the Marines, James Sperry of Lebanon, Illinois saw intense action in Iraq, wounded by a rocket grenade in Fallujah 2004. For Sperry, the bottom line is no special treatment. He says women in combat have to meet the same physical requirements as men.
"I don't want them to have special treatment because when it comes down to combat there is no special treatment, said Sperry. "That's one of my worries is they'll have some kind of special training in infantry that will be different from the men. But if the women can qualify with everything the men have done, then I think they're more than ever allowed to be in the infantry."
Personal trainer Robin Ricca was an Air Force law enforcement specialist from 1986 to 1988. She believes many women are capable of the rigorous physical demands of combat.
"There are many women who are physically gifted who seem designed to do this kind of work, said Ricca. "I am as strong as many of the men who work out where I work. I have seen women do one hundred pushups in two minutes. It's not like women haven't been serving in a quasi-combat role in Iraq and Afghanistan. This just gives them the green light to try to apply for Special Forces, for infantry, and to gain the skills and leadership that have made so many other leaders great the past several hundred years."