Combat already a reality for women in service

Combat already a reality for women in service
Veteran Elisa Wyatt stands in a gunner's turret during training. Although she was an IT specialist in Afghanistan, she found herself in harm's way. Under a recently announced Pentagon plan, women would be allowed to apply for more combat roles. Courtesy photo

COAST CITIES — On paper, retired Petty Officer 3rd Class Elisa Wyatt’s job as an IT specialist in Afghanistan shielded her from battle. But in reality, she was often in harm’s way. 

She carried an M4 assault rifle and handgun when moving from base to base to help with network operations. During these trips, she was warned of an increased threat of being ambushed, kidnapped or put into other dangerous situations. In fact, two in her communications team were killed after they went “outside the wire.”

Rockets struck her base periodically. On one occasion, she was close enough to hear one whizz by. Luckily, she was unscathed.

“It doesn’t matter if people like it or not; combat is a reality for women,” Wyatt said. “The enemy isn’t going to scan a convoy and differentiate between genders.”

Under a recently announced Pentagon plan, women would be able to apply for combat jobs previously only available to men. The plan drew a rebuke from critics, who question whether women possess the agility and strength to permanently serve in direct combat situations. In response, some argue that women are already serving in battle positions, and that they deserve recognition for doing so.

Since 1994, women have technically been prohibited from serving in direct combat roles on the ground. But many women serving in Iraq found themselves caught in ambushes or in unexpected firefights — a common occurrence because of frontlines being much less defined in modern warfare For her part, Wyatt didn’t shoot at combatants, though she was trained to. But she did come in contact with women who performed heroic acts in the heat of battle.

Physically speaking, Wyatt believes she was just as qualified as the men in her unit.

“I was one of the best shots in my class,” said Wyatt, adding that she schooled some men in basketball and occasionally led runs in her unit.

Most importantly, in Wyatt’s mind, the Pentagon’s plan will give credit where credit’s due, considering that women are already a part of combat situations.

“It (the combat ban) was causing some women coming back not to get credit or medals or compensation,” Wyatt said. “Officially, we were never allowed to be in combat, even though some of us really were.”

She added that she was put in harm’s way once going outside the wire, raising the likelihood of a combat situation.

Wyatt, a San Diego resident who served for almost 10 years, retired from the Navy last year with brain and spinal injuries following an accident in a simulator designed to prepare troops on how to escape Humvee rollovers.

She noted that the simulator subsequently injured others, including paralyzing a man from the waist down.

With ranks totaling more than 200,000, women make up 15 percent of the military. For the first time, women could be permanently assigned to combat-heavy field and armory battalions, as well as platoons and squads.

By 2016, more than 230,000 previously unavailable combat roles will be open to women in the Army and Marines.

“Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight, and yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans,” said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta last week during the announcement.

Under the plan, the military will set gender-neutral standards for combat roles. In his speech, Panetta said the standards would not be weakened to accommodate women or anyone else.

“Let me be clear, I’m not reducing the qualifications for the job, if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation,” Panetta said.

Some groups maintain the military’s plan will gradually degrade job standards.

“The military shouldn’t engage in social experiments,” said Elaine Donnelly, founder of the Center for Military Readiness. “Women don’t have an equal opportunity to survive.”

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents San Diego and served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, said in a statement that the plan was “rushed.”

“What needs to be explained is how this decision, when all is said and done, increases combat effectiveness rather than being a move done for political purposes,” Hunter said.

152 women have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to U.S. Department of Defense statistics. Those deaths haven’t quelled the support for allowing women to apply for combat roles.

According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of Americans support women serving in ground units that engage in close combat.

Tara Jones, a Navy veteran and president of the San Diego-based National Military Women Veterans Association of America, counts herself among the backers of women serving in all positions. She said some female mechanics and drivers have proven themselves when temporarily “attached” to direct combat situations, and thus deserve the chance to “aspire to any roles they want.”

“The door was opened for them recently, that’s for sure,” Jones said.

Also, she said the decision would help give more weight to issues unique to women veterans.

“Women have issues that sometimes weren’t recognized,” Jones said, citing homeless female veterans with children as one example.

Congress will review the Pentagon’s plan in the coming months.

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  1. Jaime says:

    I served with this service member and I think that article does not tell her entire story. What this article does not cover is the fact that Wyatt attempted defraud the US government out hundreds of thousands of dollars by claiming to have injuries that she never sustained. Wyatt was also an unsatisfactory sailor by being constantly late or absent for mandatory command functions and formations. Wyatt on numerous occasions was beligerent to high ranking officers and lacked military bearing. Wyatt is the prime example of people who slip through cracks of the military system and get rewarded a retirement check in the end. Shame on the Navy and The Coastal News for being suckered by Wyatt and her lies!

    • Tara says:

      This comment is all to common of the lack of support for victims of military sexual assault. Defame, Deface, Divide women of service. Wyatt’s assault is well documented. She also is a strong advocate for the challenges that women of combat face among their male counterparts. To date DOD, the Pentagon, or The White House for that matter have a complete control on the way that women like Elissa are treated within the military branches of service. She is no longer active. She received an honorable discharge due to the countless sacrifices she has made. Wyatt is transitioning very well after all the barriers she has had to overcome. We commend her for speaking out.
      National Women Veterans Association America

      • jaime says:

        Tara you are speaking from a posistion of not knowing what you are talking about. This isnt an attack on women in the military. I have served with females who are outstanding service members, so please feel free to set your feminest agenda aside. My beef with Wyatt comes from first hand knowledge of her and her circumstances. Trust me Wyatt isnt a “victim” of any sort. If there are any victems in the case, its the US taxpayers who have to fork out the money to pay her BS retirment check and the cost of her uneeded medical care. I support any US Service member that is put in harms way and defends there country with honor.

  2. jaime says:

    Just to be clear, I’m not out to bash Wyatt on a personal level nor am I putting her personal business out on the street. I’m also not out to argue with the National Women Veterans Association America as also I support organizations who help or support troops and veterans. Everything I have said in previous statements are made on strictly professional observations. Its just a slap in the face to honest veterans including myself to see a lying, manipulative, and unsat sailor enjoying unwarrented benifits while being put on high pedestal.

  3. Elisa Wyatt says:

    Jamie, you say you served with me. What is your last name? Which command? Are you still on Active Duty? Do you have the courage to come forward and reveal your full name, rate, and rank? We shall see.

  4. Elisa Wyatt says:

    Attempting to bash me on a personal level is exactly what you are attempting to do. You say you have “firsthand knowledge of me and my circumstances.” What role did you play at the command of which you speak? Were you directly in charge of supervising me?

  5. Elisa Wyatt says:

    I notice that you do not deny that I was trained in a COMBAT role and placed in harm’s way, which IS the focus of this article.

  6. Tara says:

    Jamie, This is exactly why National Women Veterans Association of America exist. Elisa if Jamie has no internal required knowledge to give the final say over your service, than he is considered slanderous and warrant legal action. When the military discharges a servicemember there are many variables taken into consideration. I would never dare to say these things with out the facts. After reviewing this service members data, NWVAA agrees that she served honorable and therefore EARNED her benefits.

  7. Elisa Wyatt says:

    This short article was NOT DESIGNED to tell the entirety of my story. There is a lot more to my story than being injured during combat training, deploying to Afghanistan injured, and being placed in harm’s way while I was in the war zone.

    Besides having warheads and car bombs detonating very near to me and traveling “outside the wire” in the performance of my duties, I also experienced the “friendly fire” of being SEXUALLY ASSAULTED and being denied justice and treated as the problem after reporting it.

  8. jaime says:

    No I was I never in charge of you…(Thank God) Im just another person on a long list of people who have had the displeasure of having to interact with you. If what I’m saying isnt true then why go to great lengths to argue against it? I mean afterall, this is just a comment section on a online news story right? Why not go and continue on with your life and ignore the haters? Two Words: Guilty Conscience. Anyways Ive grown bored with this. Elisa I hope you enjoy your free handout, and I pray for your soul.

  9. Jaime says:

    I would like retract all prior statements. I apologize to EW and the NWVAA.

  10. Honey says:

    First off – I will say thank you for your service.

    I am a little confused at some if the comments/statements – Ms Wyatt – you argue the point that you were indeed trained for combat…it has always been said that ‘if you don’t want to go to combat, don’t volunteer for the military’ (discussions/joining/military.com) so although I understand you were perhaps less likely – why would anyone think any job is safe from harm? The job is based on the needs of the military – and in the last 10+ years, those needs have all been in or near combat situations.

    Tara – while I will agree that the comments originally stated were not directly responses to the article, the type of behavior would have been documented – so proof would exist. Often our perception of our work behavior does not always mirror what others perceive of us. Missing or late appointments would cause a significant devaluing of integrity – in the private sector leads to disciplinary action up to and including termination. However, as this was a military issue and probably post-injury, they may have only documented without affecting discharge.

    Also, you state that the comments could be slanderous – again, this would only be if these could not be proven – but may not have affected the actual discharge. You also state, “This comment is all to(sic) common of the lack of support for victims of military sexual assault” – the article never stated any actual assault (there was mention of kidnapping potential, etc) and the comment made by Jaime (m/f?) did not accuse/address any falsification of that – so how do you accuse someone of not supporting a victim of sexual assault – when not only was the information not provided, but not remotely stated? Would that not also be considered slanderous? It would seem that this added information by your statement serves only to inflame the conversation and place focus on your own agenda.

    And Mr/Ms Jaime – I understand your frustration, but there is a time and place for everything, if you encounter a wrong – the time to address it is as close to the offense as possible. Hindsight is always a more difficult argument.

    For the record, I am not currently serving though I have plenty around me (grandfather, 2 brothers, sister, brother-I-l, 4 cousins, best friend & her hubby). I hope to join after this next semester is over, I’m working on a direct commission JAG – **keeping fingers crossed**

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