Desert Storm Started the Conversation about Women at War

When I went to a science fiction convention a few years ago, Janine Spendlove, who is active duty Marine, was telling a story about a discussion she had with a male officer. All the men are referred as Marines. All the women are referred to as female Marines.

Never as Marines.

It was a constant reminder that women were there, but we weren’t quite part of the organization — and this is a place where teamwork is drilled into our heads. The army could kind of ignore us and that we were different.

But when Desert Shield started the build up that would eventually become Desert Storm and a war with Iraq over Kuwait, suddenly people started noticing that there were women deploying. Whoops!

Forty thousand women deployed, the largest deployment of women to war at that point. I remember seeing a lot of news articles, mostly about mothers who were leaving their children behind.  Mother’s deploying!  Leaving children behind!  There was a lot of hand wringing about this.

Maybe it’s me, but we were all soldiers, and there were some of us who were leaving children behind. The children are still affected, whether it’s a mother or a father. I left parents and grandparents behind, like some of my fellow single soldiers, and it affected them, too. War is one of those things where it has a huge reach and affects people who aren’t even there.

A former soldier on a blog post elsewhere said that the military treats men like they’re disposable. I think that’s true in a sense. The soldier is a tool, and as as long as the tool is working right, the military’s happy. Women, however, did not elevate up to the role of tool. It was, in a way, like someone had ordered them to use these tools, but they didn’t really want to. So we ended up being a tool when they wanted us to be one, and when they didn’t, we were, well, this group that no one quite knew what to do with.

Women couldn’t be in combat. Yet, we were going to combat. And, in the case of Desert Storm, two women were captured.

One of the issues of the law that “prevented” women from being in combat was that they could be side by side with the men, have the same risks, but not be able to earn any of the medals. In the army promotion system at the time (though I suspect it hasn’t changed much), it was done by a point system for your occupation. The points would have times where they would drop, and if you had enough points, you were promoted. The medals were worth so many points, so when the women were excluded from earning them, they ended up losing out on the promotion opportunities as well. The officer promotions are different, but those medals also count in important ways.

So that put the women in the position of being ordered to do what was needed like the men, but not getting the same opportunities. Desert Storm’s new face on war brought that out, and it continued to be a focus during the two wars that followed. It’s only now — 24 years later — that we’re starting to see opportunities for women open up.

The video that inspired this:

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