Guest Host: Tom Gjelten

U.S. Navy LCDR Stephanie Hayes listens to testimony about women in the military during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, February 2 in Washington, DC.

U.S. Navy LCDR Stephanie Hayes listens to testimony about women in the military during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, February 2 in Washington, DC.

The role of women in the military is changing. After the recent decision to open all combat roles to female service members, this week two top military officers say women should register for future military drafts.


  • Nora Bensahel Distinguished scholar in residence, School of International Service, American University
  • Major Katelyn van Dam Marine attack helicopter pilot and combat veteran; co-director of No Exceptions, an initiative of the Truman Project and Center for National Policy
  • James Kitfield Contributing editor, National Journal; senior fellow, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon Senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations and contributor to The Atlantic's "Defense One"; author of "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield" and "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana"


  • 10:20:02

    MR. TOM GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm. We now turn to the subject of women in the U.S. Military. Following calls by top officials for women to register for the Selective Service, the draft, 2016 is already shaping up to be a historic year for women in the military. Planning is underway to open all combat roles to female service members, something a long time in the works.

  • 10:20:26

    MR. TOM GJELTENAnd joining me here in the studio to discuss this issue is Nora Bensahel of American University, Katelyn van Dam, she's a Marine attack helicopter pilot, a reservist, a combat veteran. Also James Kitfield of National Journal. And we will be taking your calls a bit later in the hour. We ran out of time in the first segment when we were talking about Zika. But we'll make sure to have time later in this hour. Of course, our phone number is 1-800-433-8850. You can reach us also on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning.

  • 10:20:59

    MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.

  • 10:20:59

    MS. NORA BENSAHELGood morning.

  • 10:21:00

    MAJ. KATELYN VAN DAMGood morning.

  • 10:21:00

    GJELTENSo, Nora, let's begin with you. So we did have two senior generals this week saying, it's time that women register for the draft. What was your reaction to that?

  • 10:21:12

    BENSAHELI think it's exactly the right move. I think that with equal rights comes equal responsibilities. The reason why women have not been required to register for the Selective Service, as upheld by the courts, is because combat positions had been closed to them. That was the rationale that the courts had given when that policy was -- when that law was challenged.

  • 10:21:33

    GJELTENThere was actually a ruling, a Supreme Court ruling that said exactly that.

  • 10:21:36

    BENSAHELYes, there was. But that has now changed with Secretary Carter's announcement in December that all positions in the military will be open to women. Women who meet the qualification standards will be allowed to serve in any position. And so there's no longer any reason to keep women from fulfilling that very fundamental responsibility of citizenship.

  • 10:21:55

    GJELTENYeah. James Kitfield, I mean, how important is this? I mean, we haven't had a draft since 1973. Who knows if we'll ever have a draft again. What's your reaction?

  • 10:22:04

    KITFIELDRight. We've been through 10 years, plus, of war. We haven't had a draft yet. So I don't think it has a whole lot of import in the sense of there will actually be a draft and women will be drafted into combat positions. I think what the military is saying here is that, you know -- and there is a civil- military tension here, this is really being driven by the civilian masters in the Pentagon and the administration -- and the military is saying, okay, well if you're going to go here, then -- as Nora says -- with this opportunity for women comes a responsibility. You're removing any differentiation between men and women in terms of serving in the military. So why wouldn't you do this?

  • 10:22:40

    KITFIELDAnd there's also a question of would women in the military be forced into combat positions if there was a recruitment problem or a manpower shortage. And I think that's up in the air. I think there's very little barrier now to saying, you know, if you're in the -- if you join the military and they tell you, grab a rifle, go to the front. That's what you do. And so it raises these questions. And I think the uniform military wants these questions debated because they can see that this is going into a sort of a different place.

  • 10:23:06

    GJELTENWell, give us a little background on why it was that Secretary Carter announced that all roles should be open to women. What was going on within the military that actually made that argument all the more persuasive?

  • 10:23:22

    KITFIELDWell, we just got out of a, as I said, a decade of war. Women have served. Women have died on the front lines of that war. They are very unconventional wars. A woman driving a truck in a logistics unit was in just as much danger of an IED as a frontline person. A woman serving in a military police unit was in just as much danger as a frontline combat person. So this has happened after every war. After Desert Storm, you will remember that there was the Tailhook scandal and we opened up combat aircraft positions to women.

  • 10:23:54

    KITFIELDSo once when you -- when, you know, you put women's lives in danger in uniform, there's always a backlash said, well, if we're taking the risk then we should have the opportunities for promotion that come with combat jobs.

  • 10:24:06


  • 10:24:07

    BENSAHELThis policy was actually announced by Secretary Carter's predecessor, Secretary Panetta in 2013. And the policy change that he announced was that instead of saying that positions would be open to women by exception -- that there had to be a clear policy allowing women to serve -- that the default would change so that all positions would be open to women except when exceptions were granted by the secretary of defense. He gave a three-year study and review period before that decision would take effect. And that's why Secretary Carter made his announcement in December, because that three-year period ended on January 1, 2016.

  • 10:24:44

    GJELTENAnd, Katelyn van Dam, for all practical purposes, women have been serving in combat roles throughout these last two wars, including yourself. Tell us about your own experience.

  • 10:24:54

    DAMYes. First, I have to throw out the disclaimer that I am speaking for myself...

  • 10:24:58


  • 10:24:58

    DAM...and not the Marine Corps or anybody else.

  • 10:25:00

    GJELTENBecause you are a reservist still, aren't you?

  • 10:25:01

    DAMI am. I am a reservist still serving. Yes, women have been on the front lines since actually before this country was even created. And women used to dress up as men in order to serve their country. And, yes, in the last two wars, I flew attack helicopters. Now, before 1994, women were categorically excluded from flying any attack aircraft, to include jets, attack aircraft, combat aircraft in general. So we've seen over the last 15 years that women have been breaking out of these previously stereotypes that people had held. And they've been serving valiantly.

  • 10:25:40

    DAMAnd I think that, given this new opportunity for women to prove themselves to be equals of their brothers in arms in these new -- or in these tip-of-the-spear units, we're going to definitely be even more prepared for the next war than we are currently.

  • 10:25:53

    GJELTENAnd what was your experience? When you -- you were commissioned in 2005.

  • 10:25:57

    DAMI was.

  • 10:25:57

    GJELTENWhat was your experience? That's now 10 years ago...

  • 10:26:01


  • 10:26:01 one of the very few combat aviators in the Marine Corps, right?

  • 10:26:06

    DAMYes. Women still make up less than 2 percent of the combat aircraft. That's either Cobras, Hueys or jets within the Marine Corps. You also have to remember, we have less than 8 percent overall to include our officers and our enlisted. So when I went through, there were certainly peers that questioned still, you know, 15 years after this is open, whether or not I should be there. But I like to point out that combat is the great equalizer. And when your skill-set is called upon by your peers, by your brothers to your left and your right, and you pull your weight, then all those preconceived biases really go away.

  • 10:26:48

    DAMWhich is why, I think, exposure is going to be the most important thing. We're going to get women in these units. They're going to serve valiantly. And many of these biases and concerns -- which, understandably, some people have because they haven't served with women -- but many of them are just going to fall to the wayside.

  • 10:27:03

    GJELTENSo here I want to read to you a quote that came in, an op-ed by Joe Plenzer -- who's himself a Marine or former, retired Marine -- talking about when he arrived at his first infantry battalion in 1996, so that's 20 years ago. It was, he said, a unit that seemed to be fueled in part by snuff, pornography and a heavy dose of misogyny. It was clear that many of my brother Marines did not consider women as peers. And their pejorative view extended to women serving in the Corps. That was 1996. How much change did you see by the time you came in versus then and now?

  • 10:27:44

    DAMWell, with the Marine Corps study these last two years -- a really great read, if you have time, 160 pages -- is Rand's independent study as far as integrating women. And I think one of the interesting things that was pointed out in there is, because women usually are minorities -- we're minorities in the Marine Corps and in each, individual unit -- especially attack helicopter. I mean, in a squadron of close to 300, there are only two female pilots and a handful of female maintainers.

  • 10:28:11


  • 10:28:13

    DAMThese women, when they prove themselves, are often viewed as exceptions, right, exceptions to the stereotype. And I certainly did see some of that. But, as I said, the more exposure men -- male Marines get to female Marines just doing their job and being another member of the squad platoon or squadron, these vices do fall apart and they get better. And I think it'll get better with time, especially with this amazingly historic decision.

  • 10:28:42

    GJELTENYeah. We're joined now by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who is on the phone from Turkey -- Gaziantep, Turkey. She's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. And she wrote "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield." Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, can you hear us? Welcome to the program.

  • 10:29:04


  • 10:29:05

    GJELTENYeah. Well, thank you for joining us. So you have already profiled women in special operating forces, women as special operators. Not just in the military and not just in combat roles more generally, but actually in specialized special operator roles. Tell us your reaction to this latest news.

  • 10:29:26

    LEMMONYou know, I think, what we see now is the American public catching up to battlefield reality. And as your guests have been saying, right, women have been out there. This was, you know, "Ashley's War" is a story about how, in 2011, the head of special operations command said we need women on the battlefield -- outside on missions, on combat operations -- alongside Army Rangers and Navy Seals. And the idea was that women could bring a capability that they needed. It was never about a social program. It was about filling a security gap. And it's a story, you know, of friendship and of battlefield valor.

  • 10:30:00

    LEMMONBut I think, above all, it's a story about teammates, you know, and this sisterhood that has been created alongside this very powerful brotherhood. And for most of the men alongside whom these women served, it was shocking at first to have a woman out there on a night raid or on one of those operations. But there really was a sense that they brought value to the mission and they made a difference every single night. And, at the end of the day, that's what this is about.

  • 10:30:27

    GJELTENNow you brought attention to this with your book, "Ashley's War." Katelyn van Dam has brought attention to it with her own service record. And then, this summer, we saw the first female graduates of the Ranger School.

  • 10:30:38

    LEMMONYeah. Absolutely.

  • 10:30:39

    GJELTENWhat did they do to move this issue forward, would you say?

  • 10:30:44

    LEMMONYou know, I covered Ranger School this summer at Fort Benning in August. And when we first went down, everybody was like, oh, you know, where's the female soldiers? Where are the female soldiers? And then, in August, in the swamps of Florida -- so I guess that was in the spring and that was in March, I believe. And then, in August, in the swamps of Florida, a couple of reporters were invited to come down to see the end, the swamp-phase of Ranger School, which is the third and final and incredibly taxing phase of a very difficult leadership school that the Army runs, it's most prestigious.

  • 10:31:15

    LEMMONAnd what we noticed was a huge difference from just back in March. Because instead of saying, oh, there's the female. We kept saying, where is the female soldier, right? None of us reporters could figure out who it was, because they all looked awful.

  • 10:31:28


  • 10:31:28

    LEMMONRight? All of these Ranger candidates looked like, exhausted. They looked like they had not slept in days, like they hadn't eaten in a long time. They were all chewing gum to stay awake. And what you saw was exactly this, that what anybody cared about was, do you make my day better? Do you make my mission easier? Do you contribute? Do you add value?

  • 10:31:48

    LEMMONAnd I think the fact that you could answer, yes, and that two women were able to graduate from the program the first time and a third went on to graduate not that much longer, really told you that without lowering standards -- which was absolutely essential, absolutely essential to this conversation -- you could have women who were able to get through this most prestigious and most demanding leadership school alongside men who really did see them as valuable members of the team.

  • 10:32:14

    GJELTENGayle Tzemach Lemmon is the author of "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield." I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Nora, so Gayle told us about that amazing experience of the female soldiers graduating from Ranger School. The male Rangers have been very supportive of their female colleagues, right?

  • 10:32:42

    BENSAHELExtraordinarily so. I attended that graduation ceremony...

  • 10:32:45


  • 10:32:45

    BENSAHEL...where those first two women graduated. And what was so notable is that the leadership that spoke at that graduation made no mention of the fact that this was a historic occasion with the two women...

  • 10:32:56


  • 10:32:56

    BENSAHEL...graduating. Everybody knew that, of course. But what they emphasized was that everybody who graduated that day was a Ranger who had met the standards and was capable of serving and leading at the highest levels. This was an incredibly important statement in a couple of ways. That it demonstrated that women could meet the exact same standards as men and that they were qualified to go on and serve in the most elite leadership positions that the Army has. It made it extremely difficult for the Army to request any exceptions to policy on this. Once women graduated from Ranger School, there was -- you know, that's the most intense training that the Army officers.

  • 10:33:35

    BENSAHELI think it also had an effect on Secretary Carter's decision to open all combat positions to women. The Marine Corps, under General Dunford -- his last act as commandant of the Marine Corps, before becoming the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to request an exception for Marine positions, basically all of the infantry and other combat-coded positions to remain closed to women. Secretary Carter chose to overrule that decision and open all positions, despite the Marines' request. And I think part of the reason was that women had already demonstrated in Ranger School that they could serve and meet the standards.

  • 10:34:12

    BENSAHELIt's very difficult to make a case that one type of person serving in the infantry is, you know, one type of infantry unit is okay for women to serve in, but not others.

  • 10:34:22

    GJELTENSo, James Kitfield, Nora had mentioned performance standards, which has always been the big issue here with women in the military. How much do lower performances on the part of women have to do with training? Because they -- women don't get the same training in the military that men do, correct?

  • 10:34:39

    KITFIELDYeah. Well, I mean, they don't -- they didn't do Ranger training, for instance. That's for sure. And, you know, they go through Basic, just like the guys do. And so it's very difficult to know exactly what -- because we haven't really trained them up to some of these skill sets that there now will be open to them. So, we will...

  • 10:34:56

    GJELTENWell, women for a long time weren't even learning to shoot M16s, for example.

  • 10:34:59

    KITFIELDRight. But that's changed a long time ago.

  • 10:35:00

    GJELTENYeah. Mm-hmm.

  • 10:35:01

    KITFIELDSo we, you know, every Marine -- a rifleman, I think, is the word -- so a Marine, you know, if you're a Marine, you know how to shoot a rifle, which Katelyn will tell us. You know, I think a very important point that was made by Gayle of these, you know, this was not just something to do for -- about equal rights. It was about mission success. This all started with the move in 1973 to an all-volunteer force. You know, before that, in Vietnam, very small percentage of women in uniform, mostly in the nursing corps. Never an idea before in our history that you would integrate women fully in the military.

  • 10:35:31

    KITFIELDBut the all-volunteer force in the 1970s had a very hard time recruiting people, especially qualified people. And if they didn't -- it wasn't for women, the all-volunteer force concept wouldn't have worked. I mean, we went up from very, very small percentages to, today, 14.5 percent of the all-volunteer force is women. So the all-volunteer force has to have women. And so it was always in a sort of dichotomy from the fact that you have to women, but you were denying them elite jobs that lead to promotion. There was always going to be that tension.

  • 10:36:02

    KITFIELDDidn't let women into the service academies until '76, first graduates in '80. So this has all been sort of -- started in '73. It's been a, you know, a glide path. But there was always this tension. And, finally, Ash Carter is saying, look, we're going to get rid of that tension. All jobs open. And we're not going to lower standards. And we'll see who can compete for these jobs.

  • 10:36:20

    GJELTENKatelyn, very quickly, Mike from Florida wants to know if we are familiar with a recent Marine Corps study that indicated higher casualty rates in gender-integrated combat units. Do either of you know about that study?

  • 10:36:34

    BENSAHELYeah, I...

  • 10:36:35


  • 10:36:35

    BENSAHEL...know quite extensively. The -- there are a number of methodological problems with that study, most notably the women who participated in it only had a few months' notice before they participated, which means that they had less time to train to the physical standards required before entering the school and, whereas, the male Marines did not. They were more experienced. It was also, on average, the study concluded that women were not capable of performing as well, but didn't look at individual women. And Ash Carter's -- part of his rationale for rejecting the Marine recommendation based on that study was because of that.

  • 10:37:11

    GJELTENNora Bensahel is distinguished scholar in residence at the School of International Service at American University. As you can tell, she's written and studied a lot about women in the military. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, your phone calls, 1-800-433-8850. I'm Tom Gjelten. Stay with us, please.

  • 10:40:01

    GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today and we're talking about the changing role of women in the US military and of course, the reason, one of the reasons for this discussion today is that we had two senior Generals this week say it was time that women register for the draft, just the same way that men do. My guests here in the studio are Nora Bensahel from American University. Katelyn van Dam, she's a Marine Reservist, an attack helicopter pilot and a combat veteran. She's also co-director of No Exceptions, an initiative of the Truman Project and the Center for National Policy.

  • 10:40:38

    GJELTENJames Kitfield is a Contributing Editor at National Journal, a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. And finally, joining us by phone, from Gaziantep, Turkey is Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She's a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and she is the author of "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield." And Gayle, if you're still with us, I'm gonna run by a couple of notes that we have gotten from listeners. Nancy in Cincinnati emails us.

  • 10:41:10

    GJELTENSeems if women are required to register, it's time to deal with the abuse and rape that is prevalent in the services and is something that has not been addressed. Are there plans to do that? Similarly, Erica sent us a tweet. Women should participate in the draft, but more must be done about the sexual assault harassment culture in the Armed Forces. I'm sure this is something that you considered carefully when you were working on your book.

  • 10:41:35

    LEMMONWell, yes, and it's funny, and I think there are two really important parts on this. One is, the first thing I learned was I would say, I'm writing a book on special operations. And people would say, oh, that's great. I'd say, oh, and you know, it has women in it. And then there would be silence. And inevitably, the person would say -- men, you know, and women, is it about rape or PTSD? And that really shocked me, because it showed how absent stories of what women have been doing on the battlefield these past 14 years truly have been.

  • 10:42:04

    LEMMONAnd so that was part of why I was so thrilled to bring "Ashley's War" to life. But there was no question that military sexual assault was a part, a small part, but certainly a part of the story. Because two of the young women in the story were survivors of military sexual assault. And in fact, Lane, one of the members of this team that was on Ranger missions, actually wanted to try out to be on this cultural support team because she wanted to prove to herself that what had happened to her in Iraq, on her first deployment when she was sexually assaulted, would never happen to her again.

  • 10:42:40

    LEMMONAnd that she would not let herself be a victim again. That was her thinking. And so, I think that the military sexual assault issue is so important and it's important for all of us to address and in fact, in 2013, when this combat ban was first lifted, sexual assault, military sexual assault was -- came up. And General Dempsey, at the time...

  • 10:42:59


  • 10:43:00

    LEMMON...said that he -- sorry, thank you. Chairman Dempsey, at the time, right, who was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at that time said, you know, there are two classes right now, the way we see men and women, and maybe getting rid of the ban on women in combat, which we all know has long been surpassed by reality will be part of creating one class of service members.

  • 10:43:21

    GJELTENKatelyn van Dam, your experience.

  • 10:43:24

    DAMI -- just a point on this, to echo what Gayle said about not being seen as a second class citizen. Often, sexual assault is a predatory act, so a predator is looking for the weakest link. By sheer numbers, not relative to the populations, more men are sexually assaulted in the Marine Corps than women. Again, not relative to their populations. The thing is is this is an important issue that I think all of the services are addressing and need to continue to address, but to hold women from these tip of the spear units or from selective service is like saying we shouldn't allow women into -- onto college campuses until we've completely figured this out.

  • 10:44:04

    DAMBecause there is an issue. And I think it's really important that we recognize this is an issue. It needs to continue to be resolved and, but we don't use that as a reason or excuse to exclude women from any of these units.

  • 10:44:17

    GJELTENLet's go now to Tanya, who's on the line from Chelsea, Michigan. Hello Tanya. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:44:24

    TANYAHi. So, I applaud the people who are already serving in the military for wanting to be in combat roles. But as a woman, I don't really want to be in the military, and I don't think it's fair for me to have to leave a small child. Men don't have periods or get pregnant. And I don't think it's going to be exactly the same and I don't think it's fair to make everybody want to join the military just because some other women do.

  • 10:44:52

    GJELTENWell Tanya, originally, we were discussing earlier, women were excluded from the draft because they were excluded from combat roles in the military, so it was felt there was a different category for them. You're saying that that, sort of, the difference should be extended, not just to what roles women play in the military, but to issues that women have uniquely.

  • 10:45:13

    TANYAI think that we shouldn't have to serve, to sign up for selective service or have the possibility of being drafted and making the choice of leaving a home with a small child that we're caring for because there are some women that are already interested in serving in the military.

  • 10:45:30


  • 10:45:31

    TANYAI don't think that's fair.

  • 10:45:33

    GJELTENYeah. Katelyn?

  • 10:45:34

    DAMI certainly appreciate your sentiments as a mother, unquestionably. In 1981, when the Supreme Court made this decision, Justice Marshall's dissent, and I quote, says that it categorically excludes women from their fundamental civic obligation. The draft hasn't been instituted since Vietnam and another point is that less than 25 percent of our 17 to 24 year old citizens in this country are physically, mentally or have the criminal record to serve in the military in general. So, if we did institute this, it would unquestionably be a time of existential circumstances that threaten this country.

  • 10:46:16

    DAMAnd the military already makes allowances. Anybody who's seen "Saving Private Ryan" understands that there would be allowances for family. Both parents would most likely not be pulled into services. And as we move into -- we're in the 21st century now, many of our roles are not gonna require front line. Now, that, I don't think that can exclude everybody from that service, but we're going to need a lot of people in cyber and logistics. And so, if this country...

  • 10:46:46

    GJELTENThe nature of war has changed, hasn't it?

  • 10:46:47

    DAMIt has, and we still -- we'll always need people with boots on the deck, but if your service was called, if this country was in a situation that needed your service, there would most likely be places for you to go that wouldn't necessarily be front line boots on the deck.

  • 10:47:01

    GJELTENOkay. Steve, who's a former Marine, sent us an email from San Antonio, saying, I served in the infantry and in Iraq and I always thought the emphasis on performance by women in combat roles has been used to exclude more than include. I've seen a lot of male Marines who can't meet basic fitness standards but were passed along or given help by their squad leaders. So, this has always seemed like a specious argument that serves more to divide than anything. I think your combat pilot is right.

  • 10:47:29

    GJELTENThe more women are part of infantry units, the more it will force a change in culture within these units. And Steve, thanks for that email. James or Nora, first you James, let's talk about the challenges that are going to have to be overcome in order to integrate women more fully in the military. Where is the resistance? What are the biggest issues, do you think?

  • 10:47:52

    KITFIELDWell, I didn't really get into the sexual, military sexual assault debate, but one thing we, the military learned when it was integrating women into the service academies and integrating women into the air combat positions was you want to have a cohort of women who can form a support group. To throw one women in a unit of 300 men is not a really good idea. So, to really fully integrate combat units, they're gonna have to create a certain number so there's enough that you have a female cohort that can support itself, in a sense.

  • 10:48:27

    KITFIELDYou know, be a sisterhood, as Gayle said, as well as -- within that brotherhood. So I think that's going to be one challenge. And the other challenge is what the Marine Corps pointed to. In its study that found difference between all male units and mixed gender units, that the thing they -- that differentiated was well, the mixed gender units were not as good at long marches with heavy loads, going right into a fight. Because it gets right into the physiological, you know, men have more upper body strength, larger lungs, et cetera.

  • 10:48:53

    KITFIELDSo, they're now going to put a -- create a standard for each military occupational specialty within the military. And try to figure out, so where is -- what is required for this job and can you meet that standard? And we won't lower that. We've never really done that before -- I suspect it's going to be more art than science. And that's going to be, I think, quite difficult, to put a, to put a sort of quantitative, qualitative number, you know. You have to be able to lift so much pounds and do it for so long. That's not going to be easy.

  • 10:49:19

    GJELTENNora Bensahel, you mentioned earlier that this has been a change that pre-dates Secretary Carter. It's been a long time coming. There seems to be a kind of a -- an inevitability about this trend, and yet, there's still a lot of criticism about it, isn't there?

  • 10:49:35

    BENSAHELThere is. And I think what Katy said earlier is right. That a lot of that will go away when women prove themselves in these units. But having a successful transition to women serving as essential, as James just said, I would only add to that that you need to make sure that those cohorts include both officers and enlisted personnels of women and not those little clusters. So that the enlisted women have some superior officers who are women, in case they need that kind of support and mentorship.

  • 10:50:03

    BENSAHELBut I think this is -- you know, fundamentally, this is a question of about talent. It's not about, you know, equal rights just for the sake of, you know, something on paper. This is really about the future capabilities of the military and the ability to get the best talent across the force.

  • 10:50:20

    GJELTENPeople like Katelyn van Dam.

  • 10:50:20

    BENSAHELYeah, I was just gonna say, I'm gonna embarrass Katy, because her call sign, when she was attack helicopter pilot was "Talent." And if you know anything about the military, you know that call signs are not something you choose. They are bestowed upon you by your peers. And so, having her talent to be able to serve in these wars was essential. I think that we will see the effects of this decision really play out over time and really, you know, not just the next few years, but decades.

  • 10:50:45

    BENSAHELThere will be small numbers of women serving in these positions at first. More women will join over time as young girls today can aspire to serve in combat and start training both mentally and physically today to get ready for when they join. But, you know, once you join the military, you can't, you know, you can't come into the military laterally later on. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the year 2040 or probably even the year 2050 is serving in uniform today. So, the pipeline of the numbers of women increasing into leadership positions is something that will play out generationally.

  • 10:51:20

    BENSAHELBut will also be very important for the current talent of the force today and the ability of the US military to meet its challenges over the next, not just years, but decades.

  • 10:51:31

    GJELTENNora Bensahel. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Let's go now to Nicholas, who's been holding a long time. He's on the phone from Silver Spring, Maryland. Hello, Nicholas. Thank you for calling.

  • 10:51:42

    NICHOLASHello. Thank you for having me. My question/comment is I've read a few things that say that women are naturally more empathetic and sympathetic than men, by nature. So I'm asking is, is there any studies, or has it been shown that if in live combat, would that affect a woman, you know, if she would have like a flash or, you know, see her life flash before her eyes in that moment or something like that? Or see any kind of guts or something like that? And after combat, because of that nature, are women more susceptible to PTSD given that it already happens to them, you know, like pregnancy and stuff like that. So, would combat increase that?

  • 10:52:17

    GJELTENOkay. I'm gonna put that question to Gayle Tzemach Lemmon because Gayle, you mentioned earlier, PTSD, this is something you have studied. Are there any -- is there any difference in rates of PTSD among female and male warriors?

  • 10:52:33

    LEMMONNot that I've seen. And I just want to -- one thing I thought was interesting about the caller's question. I think it really points out that gap between where the American public is, in terms of what women's roles have been on the battlefield, and what the reality is. I mean, women have received, this past 14 years of war, you know, silver stars. One of the young women in "Ashley's War" received a bronze star medal with a V device for valor for leading her convoy through a 36-hour firefight in Afghanistan in 2009.

  • 10:53:00

    LEMMONYou know, "Ashley's War" you had young women on Army Ranger and Navy Seal missions. Their stories certainly (word?) combat pilots, right, and people receiving the flying cross. And so I think women have been out there on the battlefield. It's just that we, as a public, I think because we're so distanced from these wars, really haven't been paying attention. And I think we're all just now quickly catching up. And in terms of PTSD, you know, one of the biggest things that I've seen at least is that it's a lack of community can exacerbate the problem of PTSD so much.

  • 10:53:29

    LEMMONAnd when people are part of the sisterhood and brotherhood, and have a community of people that are looking out and caring for them, you do see that make a difference. And that's certainly what I saw in the last two years of reporting, but I have not seen women have higher PTSD rates than men, but certainly, they suffer as -- numbers in terms of soldiers. But I welcome other peoples' thoughts on that.

  • 10:53:50

    GJELTENWell, there might be some cliches here that you know, this idea that women are sort of inherently more empathetic or something like that.

  • 10:53:57


  • 10:53:57


  • 10:53:58

    LEMMONYeah, and I think that that plays out. In fact, I think some of the Rangers that I've interviewed thought that at first, and then they would meet these women and say, oh, okay, you know, they're actually like three dimensional people who only want to go out there and do the best they can on this mission, making a difference for their country.

  • 10:54:14


  • 10:54:14

    BENSAHELFirst of all, nobody who is unable to handle the rigors of combat positions, men or women, is going to be allowed to serve in those positions.

  • 10:54:21


  • 10:54:21

    BENSAHELThere are strict standards.

  • 10:54:23

    GJELTENAnd these have (unintelligible) they're looking for resilience now. Aren't they?

  • 10:54:26

    BENSAHELAbsolutely. So if that's a problem for an individual woman or an individual man, and that happens as well, that kind of empathy or if it's too emotional, those people will not meet the qualifications for those positions. But I do think the caller raises an interesting point in that women, as in general, sometimes do have different styles of thinking and approaching a problem and that diversity is a strength of the force. And that was recently said by General Joe Votel, who's the Commander of US Special Operations Command, about to be the next Commander of United States Central Command.

  • 10:54:58

    BENSAHELHe sent out a message to interested parties, special operators, explaining the rationale for his decision not to request an exception for women, because he had that option, as well. And he said, our mission is enhanced by diverse capabilities and viewpoints. And specifically said that having women in the force because of the diversity of viewpoints it could bring, which is something that's been shown in the private sector for a very long time, groups of identical people, whether it's race, gender, background, socio-economic situation, whatever, don't make as good collective decisions as groups with diversity. And so this has the real potential to be a real strength for the military.

  • 10:55:37

    GJELTENJames, we've skipped over a little bit, this issue of the draft. But it's one that provokes our listeners. We -- Douglas sent us an email, saying, for a long time, I've thought universal military service would be beneficial to America. It might change the discussion in Washington about entering into so many wars. On the other hand, we have a caller Bill. I'm not going to have time to take his call. Bill, sorry about that. But he says, nobody should be required to register for the draft, neither men nor women.

  • 10:56:06

    KITFIELDWell, haven't we come a long way when it was thought that that was the most -- one of the most fundamental responsibilities of citizenship is when your country goes to war that you participate in that. The all-volunteer force has gotten us away from that. And it's not going to change. I have a very hard time thinking that after a decade of war, and we haven't called a draft, that we're going to call up a draft in the future, unless it's some sort of existential threat, which I don't see coming.

  • 10:56:28

    GJELTENQuickly, Katy, last words on how we need to move forward from here, in your judgment.

  • 10:56:33

    DAMI think that we all need to foster a mature, inclusive environment. This really comes down to leadership. Again, the Rand Corporation found that the only time that introducing women into a lot of these units will affect any type of cohesion is if the environment was found to be hostile upon entering. And I'll tell you what, in the Marine Corps, a commander can make or break the environment of his or her unit. So, what we need to do is we need to have a mature perspective. We need to recognize that some peoples' fears might be unfounded, but they need to be taken seriously. And we need to have a mature discussion about how to do this right. And then welcome these women with open arms to serve alongside their brothers in arms.

  • 10:57:11

    GJELTENWell, that's what we're all about on "The Diane Rehm Show" is having mature discussions. I'd like to thank our guests this morning. Nora Bensahel, distinguished Scholar in Residence at the School for International Service at American University. She's written a lot on this issue. Katelyn van Dam, Marine Major Reservist, Attack Helicopter Pilot and combat veteran and co-director of No Exceptions, which is an initiative of the Truman Project and the Center for National Policy. Also, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and James Kitfield from the National Journal. I'm Tom Gjelten. Thanks for listening.

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