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Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 02/11/2012

Female Navy vet: Santorum has a point

Having served in the Navy — I was forward deployed to the Persian Gulf in wartime, helped carry more than 2,000 Marines for the initial invasion of Iraq and watched the first Tomahawks fly from the deck of the USS Kearsarge — I can tell you that Rick Santorum’s
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum at the Conservative Political Action Conference. (JONATHAN ERNST - REUTERS)
unpopular remarks about women in combat roles do reflect reality.

“I think that could be a very compromising situation,” the GOP presidential candidate said in an interview with CNN, “where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.”

Later, he said that he was referring to the fact that if women were on the front lines, men might be distracted from the mission at hand to “protect a woman in a vulnerable position.”

He’s in trouble for saying that, but to deny that men do have natural instincts, and in my opinion good ones, to protect women is to deny a certain truth.

And while some politicians and military leaders push for this equality for women, another reality is that many women in the military don’t want it.

For a majority of women I’ve known in the military, being on the front lines in a combat situation isn’t something they desire.Also, when “equality” is established, you are then forced into those roles because your career progression depends on fitting into them.

I know many great military women who are essential to the mission but who do not do their work on the front lines in combat. They have children to support and children they want to be there for.

Many are also married to military men and prefer to serve in a role where they can be home for their children while their husbands are away.

That said, there are real concerns regarding the equality of women in the military — concerns that have nothing to do with pushing them onto submarines or the front lines.

Instead, they are a result of an entrenched “good ol’ boy” way of doing things and of sexual misconduct, especially by men in authority. These problems are pervasive and real and need to be dealt with.

If politicians or military leaders really want to change the lives of military women for the better, they should address the stigma still attached to any woman who reports a man for inappropriate conduct or who is offended by indefensible behavior and comments.

Meanwhile, many women will choose not to be a member of our armed forces at all if they have to serve on the front lines in combat.

Women already have vital roles in the military and are better at some things than men. My commanding officer told me that as a surface warfare officer, I was a better “ship driver” than any of the men who had worked for him. If I hadn’t been there to drive our ship through the Suez Canal, that would have been a loss to our Navy.

To deny women and men their differences is to disrespect the person. And we all know that the draft could be reinstated at any time, so if women were expected to serve in these combat roles, what would prevent mothers from being drafted to serve in combat?

I hope our military and civilian leaders will consider Santorum’s un-PC but nonetheless realistic remarks before making any decisions we may all regret.

Elizabeth Reintjes De Angelo grew up on a Marine base, Camp Lejeune, and served five years in the U.S. Navy as a surface warfare officer. Her first assignment was on the USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) where she deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, carrying U.S. Marines to the arena. Her second assignment was as protocol officer for Commander of U.S. Second Fleet, and her final tour was at Fleet Forces Command, where she worked in anti-terrorism/force protection. Since leaving the military in 2006, she earned an MBA and now works full time as a wife and mother. She and her husband, who met in ROTC at the University of Notre Dame, are expecting their third child this summer.

By Elizabeth Reintjes De Angelo  |  12:12 PM ET, 02/11/2012

Tags:  Rick Santorum, GOP primary, women in combat roles, Santorum on women in combat roles, U.S. Navy

 
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