When I deployed in 2010 to Afghanistan, I had vaguely heard that women couldn’t be in combat. But since I being sent on a deployment with an infantry unit and would be one of the women in combat roles before combat exclusion was lifted. I thought that the military was just ignoring the combat exclusion policy. And I guess in a way they were. They were using a loophole that attached women to units that they could not serve in. But I didn’t understand the rules and regulations until years later when, in 2016, the combat exclusion ban was lifted and women were finally allowed into these units.
Women in combat roles before 2016
When I left for my deployment, I knew I had signed up to serve in the military. This meant I did whatever was asked of me. A blank check on my life. I did not question if my gender would prevent me from deploying and completing the mission. I did not even question why I was deploying in the Army when I signed up to serve in the Air Force. And truthfully my teammates did not seem to care that I was a female. Of course, they noticed my gender, but as I was one of the fittest members of the team. What I lacked in brute strength I could compensate for with perseverance.
My expertise in Civil Engineering was more important to the military than my gender and therefore they bent the rules to allow me and the other women on my team to be part of this mission. And I did my job successfully.
But there is more to the story. I wasn’t just attached to an infantry unit. I was also leading many of the convoys that my team ran. And my female counterpart who went on almost every mission I did not also found herself as the lead for many missions. Our jobs as Civil Engineers led us into this position. We worked directly with the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) to help plan out the sites we would visit for inspection. As a Civil Engineer, my role was to inspect the various projects we had all over the Kapisa province. The engineers had to be boots on the ground at each site and inspect the progress (or lack of progress) the contractors had completed on all projects.
And there was real danger every time we left the base for the next mission.
And while we most often went through our site visits without encountering anyone besides the friendly villagers, government officials, children, and contractors. The opposition was there. Waiting and watching. Occasionally attacking to remind us they were still there.
Women in combat roles know…
…what it is like to hear a mortar round land within a few hundred feet from where you are standing.
…how quickly their body went from paralyzed fear to realized to the trained military member whose training kicked in to get them back to safety.
…the fear of worrying about other members on their team who have yet to make it back to safety.
…the heightened tension of having to go back to the same location for a future mission after being attacked.
…that the job we were doing was dangerous.
…that it had to be done.
I came home from my deployment with a combat action badge, an Air Force Combat Action Medal, and a Bronze Star.
But so many people hear I deployed and assume my story is not worth hearing. They don’t understand that just because I am a woman does not mean I haven’t seen combat. That my life was changed from a deployment. It was not what I expected when I signed up to serve in the military. But it is a story that needs to be told. Because I am one of many women who faced the same challenges and more in the years since September 11th took place.
This is the story people need to know. The story of what military women have done for our country for years not just since 2016.