The Pentagon’s decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat drew a positive response from members of Maine’s congressional delegation Wednesday but a mixed review from two Maine soldiers who have served in the Middle East.
Sgt. Angela Baker, who has served in the Maine Army National Guard for more than 13 years, said she has no interest in serving in combat positions. But Baker, who has two young children, noted that female soldiers in combat zones are already in harm’s way.
She said she was deployed to Mosul, Iraq, from 2003 to 2004 with the 133rd Engineer Battalion. She was in the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Marez when a suicide bomber disguised as an Iraqi soldier set off a blast that killed 22 people, including two soldiers from Maine, and injured 72 others.
Baker, who had administrative duties with the 133rd, said she always carried a weapon during her time in Iraq, where she searched women entering the military base for hidden weapons and stood watch on a remote guard tower.
“There are no front lines anymore,” she said. “When I was over there, every single one of us, man or woman, got shot at multiple times. We saw combat because we were in a combat zone.”
Baker said she would be reluctant to seek any combat position with groups such as special operations forces. “Men are built to survive in the wilderness,” she said.
Baker said she also worries that a woman in an all-male military unit might be sexually assaulted. “I’ve never been one to jump up and down and say that women should be in combat,” she said.
Tom Greco of Biddeford, who does reservist duties as a lieutenant colonel with the European Command in Fort Devens, Mass., said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is poised to change a policy that hasn’t been enforced.
“I don’t think there is any ban that needs to be lifted because women are doing it now,” he said. “The days of a female soldier not being in the line of fire are long gone.
“When I served in Iraq, I saw women all over the battle space,” said Greco, who went to Iraq in 2003 as a major with the Army Special Forces and the 101st Airborne Division. “And I was under fire. We were all taking fire.”
Greco said women are just as brave as men, if not more so, but some positions — like those that require great physical strength — may not be suited for women.
Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has served on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said many women are already serving in what essentially are combat roles because of the lack of traditional “front lines” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They have always demonstrated that getting the job done is determined by one’s ability, determination and hard work, not by one’s gender,” Collins said in a prepared statement. “Our military’s most talented warriors should be allowed to serve on the front lines in defense of our nation’s security and freedom, whether they are men or women.”
Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, said, “The senator feels we should have the best soldiers, regardless of gender.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, welcomed the policy change.
“It has been a long time coming,” she said in an interview. “There are many women serving side by side with men in positions that should be classified as combat positions.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. His spokesman, Ed Gilman, said Michaud has worked hard to expand the veterans services offered to women, given their growing role in the military.
— Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller contributed to this report.
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