On Thursday, I wrote a column about litigation against the Defense Department challenging the female combat exclusion rules. The four plaintiffs are all Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, some have been wounded, and one received the Purple Heart. They all faced conditions the dictionary calls combat, but the Pentagon won't to avoid technically violating the rule. The combat exclusion rules, according to the plaintiffs, deprived them of promotions and access to training that is afforded to their male counterparts. Given the nature of warfare today, the combat exclusion rules have run their course.
The column focused on the litigation strategy and what it would mean to defend the case. I urged that the Pentagon drop the exclusion rules now and simply address (without being forced to by a court) the inevitable and full integration of women.
I have written on this subject about a half a dozen times. So I was anticipating a typical reaction: I didn’t know what it is like to fight in war; the presence of women would change troop cohesion; women in combat would create emotional strains on male soldiers if they were kidnapped; women don’t have the physical stamina; etc. etc. Often well meaning, sometimes just downright mean, I was prepared for the usual complaints.
What I didn’t anticipate was waking up Thursday morning to a flurry of emails from men, many of them high-ranking men, who thanked me for saying what they couldn’t. The emails kept coming. And the reason why they wanted to end the exclusion rules: their daughters.
The military is a family business; generations pass on a commitment to military service. That has traditionally meant from father to son, but fathers now have daughters whom they are equally proud of and want them to have the most in their careers without discrimination. The combat exclusion rules are a recognition for them that their own daughters face the last remnant of state-sanctioned gender discrimination. And they don’t like it one bit.
One military man, a self-described “Father of Daughters,” wrote to me from Fort Bragg to say, “the only think that should limit them is their own determination and talent, not their gender.”
Title IX, the statute that provided equally opportunity in sports to women, has changed the nature of girl’s sports. It has also changed the nature of men’s involvement in their daughter’s athletic potential. These dads coach, train, and cheer for the girl’s team.
Maybe the dads that I heard from are a form of the Title IX dad. Call them Combat Dads. And like many fathers, they are not too happy about rules that tell their daughters that they can’t be just like them.