Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Women in the Military, the Equal Rights Amendment and the Silver Star

The frontpage of the April 1st Wall Street Journal carried this news blurb:

“The Army is letting married soldiers live together in the war zone, a move to preserve the unions and bolster morale.”

Today’s army certainly isn’t the army I knew as a new army officer’s wife in the spring of 1970 during the Vietnam War.

I also remember in 1976, in connection with the U.S.’s 200th birthday, being part of the audience of a taped debate on the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Phyllis Schlafly, a vehement leader of forces against the passage of the ERA, and her supporters worried about the possibility of women serving in military combat units.

It’s been a long time since that debate, but I recall Schlafly’s group was concerned about men and women sharing bathrooms and other such logistics of military combat life.

And now two women have earned the Silver Star Medal – the first women soldiers to be awarded this medal since World War II:

On June 16, 2005, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, vehicle commander, 617th Military Police Company, a National Guard unit out of Richmond, Kentucky, received the Silver Star along with two other members of her unit in Iraq for their actions during an enemy ambush on the supply convoy her unit was protecting. During the incident, she assaulted a trench line with grenades and M203 grenade-launcher rounds and then killed three insurgents with her rifle.

And on March 20, 2008, Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown, a medic from the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, received the Silver Star Medal. After a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan wounded five soldiers in her unit, Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away. She then helped drag the wounded men away from their burning Humvee and attempted to provide proper medical care while under heavy enemy fire.

The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated, but years later women in the military have shown that Schlafly and the other anti-ERA women didn’t have to worry about the triviality of their husbands sharing bathrooms with women in the military. The women in the military today are saving the lives of other women’s husbands.

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