Last Friday, Caracel, the Israeli military’s only mixed-gender combat battalion, won a shootout against forces on the border with Egypt. Israeli officals said three gunmen on the Egyptian side were killed, one by a female soldier, according to the Associated Press.
Israel created Caracel in 2000, to integrate women into combat duty. Although it is a combat battalion, its main responsibility has been defeating drug smugglers at the borders with Jordan and Egypt. Until the ousting of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak last year, it was a pretty simple gig. So simple, in fact, it was claimed that the male soldiers in Caracal weren’t strong enough to be in a regular, all-male combat unit.
In the States, military leaders are finally realising what female soldiers can do. This July, the Christian Science Monitor reported that the U.S. military was going to open combat arms positions to female troops. Which on paper is a major step. But women have unofficially been in combat for years, whether they dressed as men to get to fight in the Civil War, or drove supply convoys down Iraqi roads littered with improvised explosive devices.
In the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars without typical front lines, Lt. col. Tammy Duckworth lost her legs when the Black Hawk she was piloting was shot down over the Sunni Triangle in 2004. Spc. Monica Lin Brown, a medic, was awarded a Silver Star for running through gunfire to get to her battle buddies while deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. She was attached to an infantry unit; they weren’t supposed to take her “outside the wire,” but needed a medic.
While U.S. leaders saw women as emotionally different, U.S. Army recently realised that women are not, in fact, just smaller men. In 2011, the Army started fielding a new Women’s Army Combat Uniform, designed with different ratios in the chest, waist, and sweep; narrower shoulders; elastic waistbands; and pockets in spots female soldiers can actually reach.
This year, they went a step further, introducing protective gear for female proportions. In the new vests, women will be able to sit down without the vest hitting their chins, run without getting bruises on their hips, and properly position the butt of their M16s in their shoulders. Also, when protective vests fit properly, soldiers are better protected.