Skip to main content

Women on front lines? Of course

By Vernice Armour, Special to CNN
January 30, 2013 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Vernice Armour says
Vernice Armour says "bottom line is if you can do the job, you should be out there doing it...man or a woman. "
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vernice Armour: In 2004 battle in Iraq, she saved a Marine squad by shooting a missile
  • She says rescued Marines didn't care she was a woman. Now Pentagon lifting ban
  • She says women in combat roles doesn't lower standards; they have long served in military
  • Armour: Having more women on battlefield will up military's ability to carry out mission

Editor's note: Captain Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour is America's first African-American female combat pilot, having flown AH-1W Super Cobra Attack Helicopters for two tours of duty with the Marines in Iraq. She is author of the book "Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-step, Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals That Matter." She is a business coach and keynote speaker for corporations and organizations.

(CNN) -- I was sitting in the cockpit of my AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter when my division got a desperate call for help. It was August 2004, and I was a part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Iraq.

Insurgents were hitting our troops with mortar rounds. The Marine squad was out of ammunition and couldn't shoot back. They had just fought a long and fierce battle, supply reinforcements couldn't reach them and they didn't even have any green smoke to mark their position for us. They needed assistance immediately.

We took out the enemy target with the last remaining missile on our aircraft. Several months later, I was talking to a Marine. When he found out I flew Cobras, he started to recount an experience he had in Iraq in which a Cobra shot a missile and saved his squad. Turned out, it was the same mission; the missile came from my aircraft. He stared at me and said, "Ma'am, you saved my life." Did it matter that the one who fired that missile was a woman, or that she was black and gay? Absolutely not!

Vernice Armour
Vernice Armour

Fast forward almost 10 years to 2013, and history has been made for women in the military. The ban on women in military combat has been lifted, allowing women to apply for jobs in front-line positions and elite commando units.

Opinion: Will infantry men accept women as peers?

According to statistics from Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, as of September 2011, there were 214,098 women serving on active duty in the military. While that might sound like a large number, these women make up only 14.6% of all active-duty service personnel. In the Marine Corps, women make up just a little more than 6%. The Pentagon says women have been barred from roughly 237,000 positions, and they will now start looking to qualified women to fill these roles. This is long overdue.

The debate the move has raised presents an obvious reality check: Our American community needs to be educated that women are capable of taking on military roles and have done so throughout the nation's history.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Women have already proven we can handle ourselves on the front lines. And in recent times, even with the ban on women in combat in place, women have been POWs. The Lioness Program, the Marine Corps all-female search team, is an example of why we can't accomplish our front line missions without women. The reality of modern warfare is that there are no front lines.

Honestly, I am offended by how many times I hear "women in combat" and "lowering standards" used in the same sentence. True, the average man is physically stronger than the average woman. Standards should not be lowered and women don't want them to be. No one should be in a job where he or she doesn't meet the standards -- not every man, for example is fit to be a Navy SEAL.

News: Single mom fought alongside combat troops in Afghanistan

The argument that women in combat will have a negative impact on unit cohesion and morale is the same argument that was used to keep blacks and gays out of the military. At what point do we bring a stop to these ridiculous arguments and address what really matters?

Debating women in combat
The role of women in combat
Breaking through the brass ceiling

Having more women on the battlefield will improve the military's ability to carry out its mission. During my two tours flying helicopters in Iraq, my unit experienced many dangerous and potentially life-threatening scenarios. The ultimate sacrifice wasn't meted out by gender.

For those who are against women serving on the front line, know this: Opening up combat roles for women is merely formalizing the reality of what was already happening; it's just opening more roles and opportunities. The bottom line is if you can do the job, you should be out there doing it, whether you're a man or a woman.

The military has been a personal journey for me. My grandfather served in World War II and was a Montford Point Marine. My stepdad was a Marine and served three tours in Vietnam, and my father retired as a major from the Army Reserves after 24 years. I love being part of this legacy, and the legacy of service to our great nation. It's time we give women the same opportunity to serve this great country. We're all in this together.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vernice Armour.


ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT