To quote singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changing.” We are in a position where the military paradigm is in a constant state of flux and the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is no different. Independent voices have been raised that this uncertain new element in our military will ultimately hurt our readiness and cohesion.
To that argument, I must disagree whole-heartedly. It is, and has always been, the greatest strength of the American military to adapt to change and capitalize on new capabilities provided by those changes.
As far back as the American Revolutionary War, the military has lead the charge on new tactics and technology. We used guerilla tactics learned from the French-American war to out-smart the Red Coats who greatly outnumbered us. In the past century, the military has been called upon to integrate ethnicity and gender into the mix, which has further strengthened our war-fighting capability.
During World War II, Navajo Code Talkers kept our tactics and secrets safe from our enemies better than the best cryptographers. This race, once ousted by American settlers, became the lifeline of unbreakable communication throughout the Pacific region.
A more publicized integration during that time was that of African Americans. In turn, this gave us the Tuskegee Airmen, or “Red Tails.” The Tuskegee Airmen proved their worth with a stellar war record despite facing blatant racism from their fellow Americans. So great was their heroism that Hollywood is currently making another movie about them.
The addition of women into our military was no exception to this trend of added capability. In addition to exceeding expectations across the board in areas like flying jets and engineering, women helped in Arab nations where fierce segregation of men and women made certain tasks difficult, if not impossible for men to perform in rebuilding the nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Simply put, women were able to go where men were unable to.
In a presentation made by Jill Rough and Natasha Christensen during the Eighth Conference on Women in the Military, sponsored by the Women’s Research & Education Institute and Alliance for National Defense, they discussed a study on whether the integration of women in the military has had a positive or negative effect. They found that not only did women excel at gender-specific roles, but also made units more well-rounded and effective in their missions.
Respondents to the study also made more assertive claims, saying that civil affairs teams without women are at a huge disadvantage because they are missing out on an important part of the community. Where men talk politics, women often talk potable water.
In each instance of minorities being brought into the fold, changes and additions to our fighting force challenged and strengthened us through diversity, even though they were at odds with the status quo at the time. So what, I ask, makes this time any different?
Now is the time to look to our fellow servicemembers, embrace this new future and find that new strength of unity we all know exists. In the same song, Bob Dylan said, “He that gets hurt will be he who has stalled,” and he couldn’t be more right, for the times are certainly changing.