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VFW Magazine March 2017 : Page 25

i think there’s that ‘extra something’ where you feel you have to prove yourself. these are the first women in combat situations. it’s like the first time women got to vote. they feel they’re making decisions and paving the future for other women in the military. they want to do it right so other women can follow in their footsteps. dr. a.J. marsden, former army sergeant and surgical nurse PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. ARMY CAPT. ELYSE PING MEDVIGV Former Army Col. Dr. Ellen Haring Former U.S. Army Capt. Laura Westley U.S. Army Capt. Elyse Ping Medvigy occurred to me that these positions would open up. I certainly thought it was a waste of time then. I’d think, ‘I’m never going to be an infantry platoon leader.’ ” But three years ago, the Department of Defense did an about face. Although women like Westley had already been serving val-iantly on the front lines, DOD officially opened doors to them that previously were firmly locked shut. A (still pending) 2012 gender discrimination lawsuit from four female service mem-bers influenced DOD’s decision. Since then, women across the branches have filled combat roles — quite successfully. However, women veterans warn there still might be an ardu-ous road ahead to full equality. Uncertainties about the future of the policy now loom, as the new Presidential administration has signaled it might upend what women say has been signifi-cant progress. However, they are steadfast that they made valid contributions to the country’s defense. “The fact that there’s even chatter about reversing the pol-icy is disgusting and disrespectful and a slap in the face for all the hard work women have done,” said Westley, who today is an author and playwright. Her memoir and comedy play, both called, “War Virgin,” are about her experience in the military. “I’m terrified of the sentiments that we have to be afraid women won’t have certain opportunities again.” strides and setbacks During the past three years, has the climate changed across the Armed Forces for women? To answer that question, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) launched a nation-al survey of about 1,300 women: veterans, active duty and National Guard/Reserve troops in October 2016. Participants were asked to identify the top three challenges they face, both personally and as a community. The top-rated community challenge was gender bias, and it was the second-ranked top personal challenge. Dr. Ellen Haring is a former Army colonel who is one of the plaintiffs in the gender discrimination lawsuit. She conduct-ed the survey on behalf of SWAN. As someone who battled for gender equality during her 30-year Army career, Haring said it’s disingenuous to think the Pentagon’s policy change is sim-ply a formality — that it is a rubber stamp approval to gender equality roles that were already in place. “There are people who say it’s not that big of a change,” she said. “Well, women have been pushed into the infantry as inter-preters and public affairs officers for years, yes, but they still were not allowed to be integrated. It’s true they were there, but they were not allowed to serve as an actual combat arms soldier.” Others say they feel their male peers have accepted them as equals, even if old stereotypes linger among those of older gen-erations. But they also acknowledge that change does not occur overnight. Army Capt. Elyse Ping Medvigy is an executive officer at the Special Warfare Education Group in the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C. When she was first commissioned after graduating from West Point in 2012, women just began filling roles in field artillery, “but it was severely restricted,” she said. “I was only allowed to serve in fires brigades rather than cannon units, which meant only a hand-ful of posts were available to me.” She deployed to Camp Casey in Korea in 2013, and on arriv-ing, was told that women “were only being kept at the brigade level in administrative roles. We were not allowed down at the line units.” The experience was disheartening, Medvigy said, because she was told at West Point that as a second lieutenant, she would become a platoon leader. “I was shocked and angry,” she said. “I decided to work my butt off until we got new leadership in. And he said, ‘Let’s give MARCH 2017   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 25

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