When he was a lieutenant in Korea in the 1950s, he and his men spent months in the bitter cold and endured killing on a scale far greater than the losses faced by U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan over the past decade. Under such conditions, he said, he is concerned that male soldiers would be more likely to worry about the safety of female soldiers. A gender-integrated infantry company, he said, would become “a less effective killing machine.”
A decade of combat has chipped away at the support for Warner’s stance inside the military. In Iraq and Afghanistan, female soldiers have operated heavy machine guns on Army trucks in combat and inflicted casualties on the enemy. They have led patrols to clear roads of buried bombs, one of the most dangerous missions in the military.
“I love my granddaughters dearly, and they both totally disagree with me,” Warner said.
Valerie Warner, who left active duty as a first lieutenant in 2006 after her Iraq deployment, acknowledged that today’s Army has not experienced the death and privation that her grandfather and his soldiers endured. “I cannot fathom what it was like in World War II or Korea,” she said.
And she conceded that integrating female soldiers into front-line combat units will probably be more complicated than lifting the ban on openly gay troops, who are already serving effectively alongside their straight counterparts.
Her solution, which she outlined in the e-mail to her grandfather, was for the Army to move slowly and ensure that the first group of female soldiers assigned to combat units has been tested in battle in Iraq or Afghanistan. “I believe you want women who have actually been in a combat support role and who have fired a .50 [caliber machine gun] or been on dismounted operations to be the ground breakers here,” she wrote.
As a young officer, Valerie said, she wanted badly to be part of an infantry unit, a position closed to women at the time. She said her biggest regret is that the decision to lift the ban came too late. “I wish this could have happened 12 years ago,” when she was still in college, she said.
The 32-year-old said she loved walking long patrols, land navigation and firing weapons. “It’s the fun stuff,” she said.
She also had another reason for wanting to be an infantry soldier. She wanted to be like her grandfather. “He is the best man I know — and no one has ever really measured up to him and never will in my eyes,” she said in an interview.