End of women-in-conflict ban inspires some to enlist

January 25, 2013

Female soldiers train on a firing range in Fort Campbell, Ky., in September 2012. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

While some politicians have yet to come to terms with the women-in-combat issue, a few women have already made up their minds. They’re enlisting ASAP.

In the hours after the Pentagon announced that women could soon serve in gender-segregated combat roles, dozens of young women tweeted or Facebooked their plans to followers. Kimberly Munzinger, who left the Marines when she couldn’t become a field artillerist, might join again after she wraps up her degree. Lily Bolourian, who had planned to go to law school, called a reservist friend to meet for coffee and talk about enlisting.

“I had never even thought about the military before,” Bolourian said. “But I feel a call to serve now. We finally have equality, and I want to be a part of that history.”

Bolourian doesn’t look like your average recruit: She’s petite at 5’2” and giggles often when she speaks. She also doesn’t come from a military family. Her parents avoided Iran’s compulsory service requirement when they emigrated to the United States before the Iranian revolution, and they hoped their daughter would become an astronaut or engineer.

But Bolourian, who has organized abortion protests and served as the women’s outreach coordinator for Obama’s D.C. campaign, sees the change as a civil rights issue on par with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Women have fought for this for years,” she said. “I never thought I’d see it by the time I’m 22.”

Kimberly Munzinger never thought she’d see the day, either. A senior speech pathology major at Eastern Michigan University, Munzinger spent four years flying drones for the Marines before she abandoned her dream of shooting “big guns.”

“WOMEN ARE FINALLY ALLOWED IN COMBAT!!!” She tweeted on Jan. 23, immediately after the Pentagon announcement. “We should have never been [expletive] banned in the 1st place. Give me my enlist papers.”

In his statement Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta did not forecast how the change could impact recruitment, if at all. But a 2012 study on the controversial repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” found no impact on unit recruitment or retention.

As many as 230,000 new jobs could open to women, many of them in Army and Marine infantry units. Currently women make up 15 percent of the U.S. military.

“My being a female never harmed a flight mission I directed,” Mulzinger said. “I’ve heard people say that women have different hygiene habits, or they’re not strong enough. But there are some men who can’t lift 300 pounds.”

Mulzinger herself lifts 325.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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