She was not the first, but the fourth woman to enlist and attempt to become a combat engineer following the Army’s lift on restricting combat arms military occupational specialties (MOS) to women. Private Erika Lopez is but one of 92 women currently assigned to Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, to undertake the Combat Engineer, One Station Unit Training (OSUT), which combines basic training and advanced individual training (AIT) , a common practice for most combat arms MOS’s.
Assigned, but not present for duty. Private Lopez’s path has been less than standard since her enlistment in July of 2015 via a delayed entry program (DEP). It was not until late September that she physically reported to Fort Leonardwood, and early October that she began training. She successfully met the standards set by her instructors. That is until her eleventh week of training, in late December, when she was released from training due to undisclosed reasons and placed on convalescence leave.
On 4 January, 2016, Private Lopez was to report back to Combat Engineer Training Command at Fort Leonardwood. She failed to appear, and did not surface again until late on the evening of 5 February, 2016, a day after she was dropped from her unit’s roster and determined a deserter. Her move was clearly calculated and not an exclusive action based on her sex. There are plenty of men who fail out, quit, malinger, or desert OSUT and in the same fashion, and others who play the same game while on active duty.
Despite the statistics of quitters or her reasoning why, her timing does not make her or the Pentagon look good; the latter is rushing headfirst into the public-relations cavalcade of doing what’s right for public opinion, not for national defense. The top priority of putting women in combat roles has been frontloaded and rather recklessly, with a recruiting campaign built on false premises, even encouraging use of a program geared toward women freezing their eggs. To step away from the hype, it is not that women should not be allowed to serve in combat roles, it is that the appropriate candidates should be selected for the appropriate positions.
Anyone who wishes to do a job should be given an opportunity to prove themselves. As long as they can do it as well as the job requires them to, with no special circumstances, they should be considered viable candidates for the position. Yet the topic of women in combat roles has brought the firebrand preachers, Internet tough guys, and misogynist degenerates out of the woodwork. Even so, the fact remains that despite their uproar, action has been taken, and their often-incoherent rants do little more than illustrate how they clash with the notion of American equality and exceptionalism.
The fact that women in this nation have not already been encouraged to serve in combat roles demonstrates a cultural shortcoming, as women have historically been highly successful combatants. Take, for instance, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who killed 309 Nazis; or field commanders such as Boudica, a Celtic queen who gave the Romans a run for their money in 60 A.D.
That anyone fears women serving as combatants in our military is simply childish, and insinuates not only a sheltered life, but also an ill-educated one, and quite possibly a fear of acute emasculation. Granted, the transition will be rocky, but what transition is not? Quite honestly, if you have served, what day of the week is not? Every day, new concepts make their way down the pipeline, and our military leaders and service members are challenged to adapt to the changes they bring.
An old military adage says, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Perhaps this transition will force many outdated concepts out of the way, permitting new warriors with progressive concepts to step forward, accept challenges, and adapt to mold the 21st century’s preeminent fighting force.
In the combat engineer field alone, 143 female soldiers have enlisted. In the United States Marine Corps, 240 women have enlisted as infantry. Things are changing; it is up to you to choose whether to step up and prepare these junior warriors for combat, or to sit on your fourth point of contact and complain like a useless piece of burning garbage. I know many have chosen to be burning garbage thus far; they will continue to sit back and make assumptions in lieu of being leaders who seek to assist in developing junior service members.
Forums and blogs have been lit up on this topic, citing this and that—often negatively—about who can do what and how. This is complete nonsense. As a leader, I have been given men who acted like frightened boys, those who were chaptered out before they could be integrated with the unit, those who were crybabies and hid behind medical profiles, and others who found excuses and feigned incompetence to complete the minimum requirements of their enlistment. These types, as well as those who wanted to serve but never did, and those who failed to meet the standard to serve, seem to be the loudest mouths on the issue of women in combat roles.
Despite the naysayers, most leaders who serve honorably do not give a damn about the background of the troops given to them so long as each servicemember is dedicated, motivated, and can meet and exceed the expected standards of their duties just as well their comrades on their left and right, with honor and integrity for their nation and their unit.
As for Private Lopez, she is the exception, not the rule. That said, if a newsflash went out for every deserting service member, nothing else would be in the media. There have been approximately 25,000 since 2006. My male-only combat engineer OSUT training company started at just over 400 newly enlisted soldiers in 1999. By the completion of training, we graduated under 200 for any number of reasons, including desertion.
In the end, the only solution—and it’s a relatively unrealistic one—would be for the Pentagon to stop marketing recruitment like a pack of desperate used-car salesmen with a Super-Bowl budget. The Pentagon would do better to spend that money on their own public-relations people to defend their troops instead of bowing to public opinion every time someone shed a tear on social media. The public should drop the she-woman act and just allow people to do whatever job they are qualified for and that they want to do. Others should grow up, or move to a third-world backwater that receives frequent U.S. drone attacks. Their antediluvian views toward women match those held by the locals.