Veterans weigh in on opening ground combat positions to women

Knoxville area veterans weigh in on opening ground combat positions to women

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U.S. Air Force veteran Ashley Ott spent over eight months deployed in Iraq. She was a utilities apprentice doing plumbing and water purification. When she signed up just after 9/11, she had other aspirations. U.S. Air Force veteran Ashley Ott spent over eight months deployed in Iraq. She was a utilities apprentice doing plumbing and water purification. When she signed up just after 9/11, she had other aspirations.
“I felt that I wasn't good enough. What's wrong with me that I can't do something that a man can do?” said Ashley Ott. “I felt that I wasn't good enough. What's wrong with me that I can't do something that a man can do?” said Ashley Ott.
Army veteran Melvin Page, who was in a ground combat position in Vietnam, hopes women in ground combat action understand the duty and danger. Army veteran Melvin Page, who was in a ground combat position in Vietnam, hopes women in ground combat action understand the duty and danger.
Melvin Page has received three Purple Hearts from his service during the Vietnam War. He was shot multiple times. Melvin Page has received three Purple Hearts from his service during the Vietnam War. He was shot multiple times.
By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The Pentagon announced in January 2013 that women will no longer be banned from ground combat roles. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance.

The Department of Defense's goal is to have more than 200,000 positions open by 2016 that were previously closed to women. As that date draws closer, there are still many questions on how the integration will happen and be successful and fair.

Some local veterans 6 News spoke with have strong, but differing opinions on women being in ground combat positions. They also have questions about how the integration will be fair and successful for women in the military while using performance standards to make sure missions are carried out by the best qualified service members. 6 News took their questions and concerns to the department of defense for answers.

U.S. Air Force veteran Ashley Ott spent over eight months deployed in Iraq. She was a utilities apprentice doing plumbing and water purification. When she signed up just after 9/11, she had other aspirations.

Video: U.S. Air Force veteran Ashley Ott on being told she couldn't be a paratrooper

“I wanted to be a paratrooper. I wanted to jump out of a plane and hit the ground running, but women weren't allowed to be a paratrooper,” said Ott.

After being denied the ground combat position, she began to questioning her capabilities.

“I felt that I wasn't good enough. What's wrong with me that I can't do something that a man can do?” said Ott.

The rules banning women from ground combat roles were rescinded in 2013. Integration of women into the previously closed positions is set to be completed by January 1, 2016.

“I think it's great. I think it's amazing that women are going to be given a chance to prove themselves, to be out there equal with men,” said Ott.

Army veteran Melvin Page, who was in a ground combat position in Vietnam, hopes women in ground combat action understand the duty and danger.

“If that woman wants to be in combat, fine. Let her be in combat, but she better know what she's facing,” said Page.

Page has received three Purple Hearts from his service during the Vietnam War. He was shot multiple times.

“They picked me up and put me in that body bag, and I just asked the good Lord above to help me move my hand or something because I knew if that body bag was zipped up, I wouldn't be here no more and I was able to move that hand,” said Page.

Video: Army veteran Melvin Page shares his experience in Vietnam

He says service members in ground combat must be strong, both mentally and physically.

“I would want to know if I was in a fox hole or a trench, or whatever you want to call it, with a woman, and I got shot and they were starting to overrun us and the unit pulled back. I'd want to know that she could drag me out of that fox hole and drag me back to safety. If we were in that fox hole and we were overrun, and we had no choice but to stay there, I'd want to know that woman would stay in that fox hole, even if it meant dying in that fox hole. She would stay in there and fight with me,” said Page.

Ott believes men and women in combat should have to meet the same performance standards.

“You should follow the same standards that any man has to follow because if your body can't be pushed to that limit, then how are you going to help your brothers and sisters?” said Ott.

Video: Army veteran Melvin Page on women serving in combat roles

According to the Department of Defense, the services are in the process of setting clear standards of performance for all occupations based on what it actually takes to do the job. General Martin Dempsey says there will be fair gender neutral psychological and physical standards. Those standards are currently being studied.

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Jan English believes women should only be assigned a combat role if they qualify and volunteer for the position.

“If a women requests combat duty, fine. If she requests to go, she can go through what the men go through,” said English.

Video: U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Jan English on requirements women in combat

6 News asked LCDR Nate Christensen, spokesperson for the Department of Defense, if women will be assigned unwillingly to a ground combat role.

He issued a statement saying: “As the services and U.S. Special Operations Command have not yet completed their reviews, it is inappropriate to speculate on what future assignments may be made."

Ott says a woman joining the military should keep in mind that ground combat is now an option.

“Once you've made that commitment and you've made that promise, you've made a vow to your country that you are going to serve and protect, and you shouldn't go into something like this blindly,” said Ott.

Also according to the Department of Defense, if members of the military can meet the qualifications for a job, they should have the right to serve. The purpose of opening up ground combat roles to women is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the best qualified and most capable service members, regardless of gender.

6 News reached out to current active and reserve service members for perspective, but they declined to comment on this policy change.

If commanders decide there are roles or combat operations that women may be excluded from, they must go to the Secretary of Defense explain and have the Secretary of Defense sign off on the standards.

General Martin Dempsey says there will be fair gender neutral psychological and physical standards.
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