Krista Ramsey reports:
Bailey Barnes remembers looking at a list of occupational specialties open to her after she joined the Ohio Army National Guard last April. Almost half were crossed out in black Sharpie.
Some were eliminated based on her entrance test results, but many were off limits because they were combat-related and Bailey is a woman.
“It was like, this is what I’m limited to, and there were so many other things I could have chosen,” she remembers.
Wednesday night when she read on Facebook that the military was likely opening many combat positions to women, Bailey, a senior at Lakota West High School, was thrilled – and wistful.
“It made me think that if I had enlisted a little bit later, I could have been open to all those MOS (Military Occupational Specialties),” she says.
When she joined last spring two days after her 17th birthday, the job Bailey dreamed of was flying Apache helicopters. The job she signed up for is cook.
The gap between dream and reality is why Thursday’s announcement by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was met with elation – and emotion – by many female military members.
For them it meant, not just the chance to officially be on the front lines of conflict, but to have a shot at greater responsibilities and higher advancement.Not that there are necessarily still “front lines” in wars as non-traditional as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not that female troops weren’t already being regularly put in combat or quasi-combat positions.
“The problem is the military has been a man’s world, so some men said women didn’t belong or they didn’t belong on the battlefield,” Bailey says. “But I’ve got news for them – it’s hard to define battlefield. And there are many women who should have been promoted, or should have gotten medals, but they didn’t because they weren’t technically on the battlefield.”
Bailey, who plans to spend at least 20 years in the military, decided to join while at her grandfather’s funeral two years ago.
She admired his service as an Army colonel who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
And the military provided a way to fulfill her desire to “fly something – any helicopter, but especially an Apache.” That dream was always set in conflict – “bullets flying, shouting, hectic,” she says.
“I would love to go to Afghanistan, at least for one tour, at least to know what my grandfather went through. I want to go to war sometime in my life.”
The West Chester teenager completed some of her training last summer and will leave for more a few weeks after her high school graduation in June.
Her training last summer, which included camping out with male and female Guard enlistees, convinced her that the issues raised by critics of females being in combat – like privacy concerns or inappropriate relationships – are overstated.
She says males and females slept in separate areas, took shifts overseeing security – including Guard members’ behavior with each other – and provided privacy for each other when it came to changing clothes or cleaning up.
“Even in training we took it seriously. And when it gets down to it, and you’re really in the middle of fire, nobody’s going to care about gender. A battle’s a battle, and whoever is covering you is covering you,” she says.
Thursday’s announcement reminded her of a conversation she had a few days after enlistment at a military processing center in Columbus. Bailey’s roommate said she wanted to be in the infantry. A male enlistee warned the women not to get their hopes up, that females wouldn’t be allowed in combat for at least 10 years.
Bailey smiles at the idea that, 10 months later, he was proven wrong.
“This was out of the blue,” she says, “but it was a good surprise.”