Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Women’s Wars

On Wednesday we learned the ban on women serving in the military will be lifted. Good.

 I learned a lot about our women soldiers working on my documentary Women’s Wars: A Primer. The movie tells the compelling personal accounts of women soldiers who have served in modern global wars : their triumphs, fears, challenges and their strategies for surviving physical and emotional harm on two fronts.

While “no women in combat” has been and is now the written policy of the US, the reality of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was that women soldiers, for the first time in US history, were daily subjected to the same risks of war as those in the “male only” combat units.In a war without front lines, women routinely face death and injury: Women drive supply trucks on roads lined with buried bombs and open to ambush, fly aircraft, serve as medics and in the military police and military intelligence. Women operate gun turrets and stand patrol with weapons poised.While women face the same dangers as men, they have not been permitted to hold the official “combat positions” which would pay them more money and lead to higher advancement. 

One of the focuses of my documentary was the  harm and terror faced by women on a second front:  the prospect and reality of physical injury, rape and sexual trauma from their fellow soldiers.  The military calls it “military sexual trauma.” In  2011 about 3,200 women reported they were rape. And I assure you this is a grossly under reported crime. In 2008, approximately one in every ten soldiers in Iraq was female. I heard reports of women dying of dehydration rather than risk rape while using the latrine at night.  One veteran interviewed tells of a young female soldier heading for her second tour of duty in Iraq who has adopted a different “strategy” for the second tour:  this time she will pick the officer to “be with” during the tour in hopes of discouraging others from raping her.  When asked what she would tell her daughter if she wished to join the military, a Native American veteran states,” I would tell her to be careful.  The enemy standing next to you may be more dangerous than the enemy outside.”

 I completed the short in 2008. Just as a generous movie star funder had promised the money to complete the full length film, the recession hit and she decided the funds were better spent elsewhere. While I was disappointed not to complete my vision for the full length documentary, I was blessed to meet and honored to hear the stories of these amazing women warriors. I am pleased women in the military will be given the opportunity to hold the prestigious combat positions. I pray the issue of sexual assault in the military will finally be fully and fairly addressed as well.

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