Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s decision to open combat jobs to women could alter women’s career paths, removing a major barrier to advancement. Combat jobs are gritty. On the front lines. In infantry and artillery units. Even though women couldn’t hold those jobs, they were often, unofficially, in combat.
“Women in combat support units who are traveling on trucks that get blown up have been, obviously, in combat,” said Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.
Genevieve Chase was in one of those trucks. The Army sergeant first class was in Afghanistan in April of 2006, when her truck was rammed by a car filled with explosives. She suffered burns and a brain injury.
Now, opportunities that were officially denied to her for years are open.
“It’s a very — sort of emotional day for me,” Chase said. “Sorry, I’m going to cry.”
Chase has been in the military for 13 years, and may leave it soon to work full time at a non-profit she founded called American Women Veterans. But she thinks the opening of combat jobs will make the military more attractive for women now.
“This is everything I would have dreamed of when I joined the military and I didn’t think that I would see it happen during my career,” she said.
But an official combat job could have boosted Chase’s career. That’s because you don’t rise to the top positions in the military unless you have a combat job.
“These combat slots – ground combat – are the express elevator for U.S. military promotions,” said Thomas Ricks, a contributing editor of Foreign Policy Magazine.
Ricks said we won’t see women leading combat units immediately. It generally takes 20 years of combat experience to rise to the very top, he said. But this is a start.
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