Women in Combat, A First-Hand Account

by Laura Nichols

Viewpoint

I am a Vietnam era veteran, with MP exit rank over 40 years ago, and very proud of my service. Recently, the U.S. government has decided to allow women in combat. This is not something new; women have been serving and fighting in combat since the beginning of time.

Recent statistics from the Department of Defense show that women in active duty make up 14.5 percent of Armed Forces personnel (207,308 out of 1.4 million). Shockingly, recent statistics also show that one in three of these women has been sexually assaulted! That translates to 3,192 sexual assaults reported out of 19,000. That's roughly 52 a day. It's no understatement to say this is a problem of horrific concern.

Most people believe that the only females that have served in combat have been nurses. I have met many service women who received orders to serve in combat units and have seen combat up close. These women receive orders from on high and were sent to inappropriate units due to clerical error. The problem with being sent to the wrong place is that it takes many months for any errors to be corrected.

Here is my first-hand experience. It's difficult even at this date to recall and to write about it. Given the recent statistics - as of October 2012 - from the U.S. Defense Department, one can only question have times changed since Vietnam? Will things radically change in the future? During my duty stint I was asked to participate in a special unit that traveled to Vietnam to escort soldiers home who were either psychotic due to combat stress or had a severe problem with drugs. As military police, we were given orders to bring the individual "home" by whatever means necessary. We were given thorazine in several vials and also a side-arm.

One of the first things you learn in the military is to follow orders and not ask questions. It was not hard to figure out that the GI's we were bringing home had fathers within the government. We took them to the closest military installation to their home and admitted them to a mental unit at the post hospital. There were always a set of orders at the hospital telling us where to go and who to pick up next.

I received a set of orders to pick up a woman in Korea at a "camp" close to the DMZ. I was to escort her out of the camp to the 121 hospital in Seoul. We were provided with extra armed soldiers to escort both of us there. When I reported to this camp, I was told that she was psychotic and a danger to herself and others. I was provided with an escort to the hut where she was held.

When I first met her, she had red paint all over her body. When I introduced myself to her she told me the reason I was there was to move her to a better whore house and that she was glad to get away from where she was. Something didn't feel right so before we left camp I wanted to talk to her. I asked our escort to move her belongings out to the jeep while I helped her change her clothes and clean herself. While we were talking she became lucid at times.

She told me she had been held and raped repeatedly over a period of time and that the guys were going to show her how much of a whore she truly was. At one point, she observed that I had a gun and asked me to shoot her because she was in so much pain and couldn't take it anymore. The longer she talked to me, the more I noticed that fragments didn't fit to the story I was told by her company commander.

I remember hesitating after she told me her story and saw the pain she felt. I actually considered shooting her because her emotional and physical pain was so apparent. I thought how could she continue living with the memories of the abuse she had suffered? I knew something wasn't right, but just couldn't explain why I believed most of her story.

We stayed for two days at the hospital in Seoul and when they considered her stable enough to fly home we returned to Georgia. Before we moved from the camp to the hospital in Korea another service woman placed a note into my pocket and told me to wait to read it when we left the country. In Seoul, waiting to process out, I read the note, it contained information that the person I was relocating had been raped for ten days, almost non-stop, by our service men (officers included) because as the soldiers put it, "She was a smart ass and used her rank to get what she wanted and they wanted to put her in her place."

There were ten women stationed at this camp and the rest were left alone as long as they didn't act like her. The letter also read that the remaining women were to be shipped out soon as they were too close to the DMZ (demilitarized zone).

What needs to be addressed is the "culture" within the military that women are just a piece of meat and expendable. It is a culture that is spread throughout all the branches of the military, enlisted men and officers included.

During my military career, I changed MOS's (military occupational specialty). The last trip I made overseas, I requested a new MOS and to be reassigned. I went to school for my new job and was sent back east to a combat engineer unit. I was the only female in that unit for six months. During those six months I was sexually harassed by the men multiple times each day. Since they could not billet me with the men in the unit I was allowed to live off post. I had men from the unit showing up at my home trying to date me or just have sex.

Again this behavior reared its ugly head time and time again and yet at one point I too was raped only because I said no to all the advances. Because of the "culture" and other reasons I now suffer from PTSD.

There are many women who tried to serve their country honorably and were victims of sexual harassment and abuse. Many ended in a mental health unit and made to believe that it was their entire fault.

I strongly believe women can serve in combat and perhaps do a better job than some men. Again it is the "culture" of the military that prevents women from being the best they can be. Research has proven women can serve in combat situations and handle the stress that comes along with war. Women can be a very valuable asset serving in combat units and I hope they are allowed to continue.

Let's start to look at the culture of sexual predators who believe that women and sometimes men are nothing more than a sexual object.

Laura Nichols lives with her partner in southeast Michigan and she volunteers for the MCCD Choir.

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