Spc. Morissa Baker and her band of sisters is a force the enemy would find hard to contend with.
The 24-year-old Nevada Army National Guard soldier can do 53 pushups or 60 situps in two minutes, and she can run two miles in 17½ minutes.
She scored 287 points out of 300 on a recent age-adjusted physical training test.
She was at it again at 5 a.m. Saturday in the armory on Range Road doing jumping jacks next to the guys in her company during their weekend “insanity PT” drill.
And, if she ever goes to a war zone, she’ll probably be in the thick of fighting, because that’s where she’ll drive her 10-ton wrecker truck to retrieve damaged vehicles. That’s unless she’s riding atop “the big 88,” as she calls it — a huge tank-recovery vehicle — firing a .50-caliber machine gun to blaze the way or protect her driver and teammates.
“Before, we weren’t allowed to be technically on the front lines though we were still there,” Baker said, glancing at two other women warriors as they readied the wrecker for a test run.
“With my vehicle, I have to go outside the line,” Baker said. “I have to go out there and recover the vehicles that have been broken down, and that puts me on the front line.”
For the six female soldiers of the 777th Forward Support Company, the day of women in combat is here, and has been for some time.
The company is attached to the 1st Squadron, 221st Cavalry, a unit of more than 700 “Wildhorse” troopers that returned from Afghanistan in 2010 after pulling 6,200 patrols to fight militants and escort convoys.
THOUGHTS ON WOMEN IN COMBAT
Four women from the support company who weren’t part of that tour offered their thoughts on the subject of lifting the ban on women in combat that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in late January.
It means the military will implement a policy this year with the plan fully in place by 2015. It will open the doors for women to serve in combat units such as the Army Rangers, Special Forces and infantry combat teams if they pass the same muster as men for those units.
All of the Guard women who spoke Saturday at the Ledsal Nevada National Guard Training Center in the north Las Vegas Valley said it’s only fair that they be given the opportunity to advance to more prestigious combat positions if, like their male counterparts, they meet the same requirements for those jobs.
“I think there are some select women who will be able to meet those standards. I don’t believe overall every woman can,” said Sgt. Kim Delaune, 35, a fuel truck driver who also served eight years in the Marine Corps.
She is the mother of two girls and has a stepdaughter.
“I believe it takes a certain amount of dedication and training. I believe that mental toughness as well as that physical toughness is very important,” said Delaune, who works locally as a civilian nurse.
She would like to see the physical requirements for serving in Special Forces and Ranger units remain and leave it up to the women who apply for those units to meet them.
“I believe the standards we have now are good, but I don’t believe that certain standards for say Rangers or Force Recon should be lowered to allow women in. Those standards have been there for a very long time, and there is reasoning behind those standards.”
SUPPORT FROM FEMALE SOLDIERS
For now, most active duty and reserve component soldiers have been muzzled from speaking about the lifting of the ban.
“Commands should not engage the media on this subject or make Soldiers available for comment,” reads the Army Reserve’s “G3 guidance on press coverage and interaction on Women in Combat.”
But more than 100 letters received by the Army Times found that 20 percent gave “unconditional support for the move,” according to the Feb. 11 edition.
“Women were 2 to 1 against it and men about 4 to 1 against,” the Army Times reported, saying women who opposed lifting the ban cited sexual harassment and putting husbands in combat with women as reasons for their opposition. Men cited physical ability in their opposition .
The 777th Forward Support Company women say they can cope with the “macho” persona of some male soldiers and expect some in mixed-gender units.
“With the macho guys that we have, we deal with them every day,” Baker said. “It’s not something that we don’t deal with. They’re here. Whether in the workplace with the military or in civilian life, we deal with them any way.”
HUSBAND IS SUPPORTIVE
Delaune said her husband, Brandon, supports her love for the military. He served in the Iraq War as a military policeman during the height of combat from 2003 to 2004. They met when she was in the Louisiana National Guard.
“I think he understands I’m very passionate about being in the military. And if the military calls upon me to serve in a deployment and be called into combat, he understands that’s my duty to do so.”
Nevertheless, Delaune said, “He worries about me at the same time. But he understands it’s something I wanted to do for my whole entire life, and I’ve been doing it for over 15 years now.”
Recruiters are anxious to make more opportunities for advancement in combat jobs open to women.
Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Amanda Zayas, 25, an ROTC program recruiter at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said she is “really excited” about lifting the ban on women in combat and hopes it will produce new opportunities for them.
“I think it has taken a while for us to get there. I think women in this war have eventually been fighting on the front line,” she said, offering her opinion as a civilian, not on behalf of the Army.
The Pentagon expects to open 230,000 combat positions to women that have been off-limits under a 1994 rule that banned them from being assigned to smaller, elite ground combat units.
Last year, 204,714 women were members of the U.S. active duty military force, 14.5 percent, compared to 1,206,711 men, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center.
In the military’s reserve component, women account for a higher percentage, 18 percent, or 153,915 women, vs. 82 percent men, or 701,948.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.