Soon, women in the Marine Corps and Army can attend Infantry School. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is an important first step to address the institutional discrimination against women that is prevelent in the military. (Seriously, stick with me.)
Women now comprise 13.4% of the Army, but less than 5% of its generals. Even looking at the list of women generals in the Army, you'll see a trend: they are relagated to support functions: Information Technology, the Medical Corps, Judge Advocate General Corps (the lawyers), and Corps of Engineers. General Cornum (Ph.D, MD) was a POW during the first Gulf War and wounded in combat... yet despite a shit-ton of medals for her combat service, combat roles remained closed to women. Her combat experience was a result of being a flight surgeon in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet it highlights a problem with the organizational structure of the military in light of the changing nature of warfare. No army will ever again fight the Battle of the Somme. Front lines will never again be so well-defined, with "safe" areas and danger zones clearly able to be drawn on the map. If support roles are likely to be performed under fire, then the military must provide the training to allow women nurses, doctors, engineers, and lawyers to defend themselves. And, if they are able to defend themselves, then why limit their roles? Why not allow them to move from supply chain management to management of a machine gun on the top of a tank?
While this is the argument that women are capable soldiers, there is a deeper issue at hand. The Army stacks the deck in favor of those with combat experience over those without. A basic look at a sample promotion schedule looks innocuous, but the structure of the point system highlights a covert bias against women. The majority of the points are earned through Medals, Military Training, Civilian Education, and Military Education. However, the greatest number of points earned in each category are for combat. If women are prevented from training for combat or infantry roles, they have less potential to earn points in the military training or education categories. Without training for the expectation of combat, their likelihood to earn medals for valor in combat situtations is diminished, both from the lack of training and the lack of opportunity. (On a separate note, my father was a JAG officer in Viet Nam, but because he was originally assigned to infantry, he received combat training and did earn medals valor in combat, which pushed him up the ladder faster. Or, maybe it helped him to survive the war. Either way, I fail to see how additional education & training could ever be a bad thing when it may save lives.)
So, while I'm sure I'm going to have to suffer through a slew of pundits talking about how Americans will not like seeing wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters coming back from war in body bags. It makes it sound like we're okay with husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons dying. What opening the Infantry Schools to women does is level the playing field so that individual women can pursue this career path if they so choose it, rather than letting the rules of the institution dictate this for them. If the military is supposed to be a meritocracy based on individual achievement, then it needs to remove the entrenched barriers that lead to discrimination.