Realities on the ground

"Realities on the ground" Continued...

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

Navy Cmdr. Patrick McLaughlin said his own nature as the father of four daughters made him feel more protective of military women when he served as a chaplain in Iraq. McLaughlin performed memorial services for two women killed in action on the same day, Feb. 7, 2007.

Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris, 28, of Swampscott, Mass., died when insurgents shot down her helicopter with a missile. Marine Cpl. Jennifer Parcell was pulling "Lioness" duty, a 45-day detail searching Iraqi women at a vehicle checkpoint. The 20-year-old, Bel Air, Md., native was killed when a woman she was searching detonated a concealed explosive vest.

"It really hits home for you as someone who's the father of baby girls," said McLaughlin, 47, of conducting the memorial services. "Those women were somebody's baby girls."

Still, he said, he has no problems with equality, with women serving in combat. "Should women have the same right to do everything as men? Yes, that's one of the things we fight for."

In last year's YouTube debate, Obama compared the role of women with that of black soldiers such as the Tuskegee Airmen, who served during World War II. "There was a time when African-Americans weren't allowed to serve in combat," Obama said. "And yet, when they did, not only did they perform brilliantly, but what also happened is they helped to change America, and they helped to underscore that we're equal."

But women and men are not equal in training standards or physical capacity, said former Army special operator Brian Jones, who is married to Michele Jones. Fifteen years ago last month, Jones fast-roped from a hovering Black Hawk helicopter into the bloody battle made famous by Mark Bowden's book Black Hawk Down. The clash pitted 99 U.S. soldiers against thousands of armed Somalis loyal to warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid.

For 18 hours, automatic weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades turned the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, into a metal storm. Eighteen Americans were killed and 73 wounded, including Jones, who was shot twice-once, when a metal fragment ricocheted off a building and knifed under the skin of his abdomen; then again when a long-distance shotgun blast strafed his back.

While Jones was able to stay in the fight, "many of us had extreme wounds, meaning somebody had to carry those guys and keep them alive. The rest of us focused on staying alive by fighting with every stitch of intestinal fortitude we could muster-and then some," Jones said. "Three different times, we looked at each other and said, 'This might be our last few minutes.' But we were able to stick together and fight it out because of the level of training [that the all-male Task Force Ranger] had. There is no way a female could have made it to that level."

Also, Jones added, there's no way a woman could have carried the wounded to safety.

Feminist groups have long objected to such assessments, suggesting that women and men can perform with equal efficiency under fire. But the feminist vision of gun-toting American Amazons going toe-to-toe with enemy males does not reflect reality, as Jessica Lynch will tell you. After the Iraqi army captured the 19-year-old, 5'3" private, the legend of "G.I. Jessica" captivated the world.

At first.

On March 23, 2003, Lynch's supply convoy, from the 507th Maintenance Company, made a wrong turn: Instead of detouring around the Iraqi army stronghold of Nasiriyah, the convoy drove directly into it. The Iraqis shredded the American element with rocket grenades and small-arms fire, killing 11 soldiers and capturing five, including Lynch and her best friend, Lori Piestewa.

Initial news reports cited unnamed Pentagon officials who claimed Lynch fought back fiercely, emptying her M-16 into enemy soldiers, killing several. She was stabbed and shot multiple times, the story went, and only went down after she ran out of ammunition.

But Lynch, to her credit, later refused to take credit for unearned heroism. "I did not shoot, not a round, nothing," Lynch said in interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer. "I went down praying to my knees. And that's the last I remember." It turned out that Lynch's M-16 had immediately jammed. She then sustained serious leg injuries when the Humvee she was riding in crashed during the battle.

But that may not have been her most serious injury. Lynch's medical record noted that she "was a victim of anal sexual assault . . . [her] body armor and bloody uniform were found in a house near the ambush site."


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