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Combat already a reality for women in service

COAST CITIES — On paper, retired Petty Officer 3rd Class Elisa Wyatt’s job as an IT specialist in Afghanistan shielded her from battle. But in reality, she was often in harm’s way. 

She carried an M4 assault rifle and handgun when moving from base to base to help with network operations. During these trips, she was warned of an increased threat of being ambushed, kidnapped or put into other dangerous situations. In fact, two in her communications team were killed after they went “outside the wire.”

Rockets struck her base periodically. On one occasion, she was close enough to hear one whizz by. Luckily, she was unscathed.

“It doesn’t matter if people like it or not; combat is a reality for women,” Wyatt said. “The enemy isn’t going to scan a convoy and differentiate between genders.”

Under a recently announced Pentagon plan, women would be able to apply for combat jobs previously only available to men. The plan drew a rebuke from critics, who question whether women possess the agility and strength to permanently serve in direct combat situations. In response, some argue that women are already serving in battle positions, and that they deserve recognition for doing so.

Since 1994, women have technically been prohibited from serving in direct combat roles on the ground. But many women serving in Iraq found themselves caught in ambushes or in unexpected firefights — a common occurrence because of frontlines being much less defined in modern warfare For her part, Wyatt didn’t shoot at combatants, though she was trained to. But she did come in contact with women who performed heroic acts in the heat of battle.

Physically speaking, Wyatt believes she was just as qualified as the men in her unit.

“I was one of the best shots in my class,” said Wyatt, adding that she schooled some men in basketball and occasionally led runs in her unit.

Most importantly, in Wyatt’s mind, the Pentagon’s plan will give credit where credit’s due, considering that women are already a part of combat situations.

“It (the combat ban) was causing some women coming back not to get credit or medals or compensation,” Wyatt said. “Officially, we were never allowed to be in combat, even though some of us really were.”

She added that she was put in harm’s way once going outside the wire, raising the likelihood of a combat situation.

Wyatt, a San Diego resident who served for almost 10 years, retired from the Navy last year with brain and spinal injuries following an accident in a simulator designed to prepare troops on how to escape Humvee rollovers.

She noted that the simulator subsequently injured others, including paralyzing a man from the waist down.

With ranks totaling more than 200,000, women make up 15 percent of the military. For the first time, women could be permanently assigned to combat-heavy field and armory battalions, as well as platoons and squads.

By 2016, more than 230,000 previously unavailable combat roles will be open to women in the Army and Marines.

“Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight, and yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans,” said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta last week during the announcement.

Under the plan, the military will set gender-neutral standards for combat roles. In his speech, Panetta said the standards would not be weakened to accommodate women or anyone else.

“Let me be clear, I’m not reducing the qualifications for the job, if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation,” Panetta said.

Some groups maintain the military’s plan will gradually degrade job standards.

“The military shouldn’t engage in social experiments,” said Elaine Donnelly, founder of the Center for Military Readiness. “Women don’t have an equal opportunity to survive.”

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents San Diego and served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, said in a statement that the plan was “rushed.”

“What needs to be explained is how this decision, when all is said and done, increases combat effectiveness rather than being a move done for political purposes,” Hunter said.

152 women have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to U.S. Department of Defense statistics. Those deaths haven’t quelled the support for allowing women to apply for combat roles.

According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of Americans support women serving in ground units that engage in close combat.

Tara Jones, a Navy veteran and president of the San Diego-based National Military Women Veterans Association of America, counts herself among the backers of women serving in all positions. She said some female mechanics and drivers have proven themselves when temporarily “attached” to direct combat situations, and thus deserve the chance to “aspire to any roles they want.”

“The door was opened for them recently, that’s for sure,” Jones said.

Also, she said the decision would help give more weight to issues unique to women veterans.

“Women have issues that sometimes weren’t recognized,” Jones said, citing homeless female veterans with children as one example.

Congress will review the Pentagon’s plan in the coming months.

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18 comments

Jaime March 3, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I served with this service member and I think that article does not tell her entire story. What this article does not cover is the fact that Wyatt attempted defraud the US government out hundreds of thousands of dollars by claiming to have injuries that she never sustained. Wyatt was also an unsatisfactory sailor by being constantly late or absent for mandatory command functions and formations. Wyatt on numerous occasions was beligerent to high ranking officers and lacked military bearing. Wyatt is the prime example of people who slip through cracks of the military system and get rewarded a retirement check in the end. Shame on the Navy and The Coastal News for being suckered by Wyatt and her lies!

Tara March 4, 2013 at 10:30 am

This comment is all to common of the lack of support for victims of military sexual assault. Defame, Deface, Divide women of service. Wyatt’s assault is well documented. She also is a strong advocate for the challenges that women of combat face among their male counterparts. To date DOD, the Pentagon, or The White House for that matter have a complete control on the way that women like Elissa are treated within the military branches of service. She is no longer active. She received an honorable discharge due to the countless sacrifices she has made. Wyatt is transitioning very well after all the barriers she has had to overcome. We commend her for speaking out.
National Women Veterans Association America

jaime March 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Tara you are speaking from a posistion of not knowing what you are talking about. This isnt an attack on women in the military. I have served with females who are outstanding service members, so please feel free to set your feminest agenda aside. My beef with Wyatt comes from first hand knowledge of her and her circumstances. Trust me Wyatt isnt a “victim” of any sort. If there are any victems in the case, its the US taxpayers who have to fork out the money to pay her BS retirment check and the cost of her uneeded medical care. I support any US Service member that is put in harms way and defends there country with honor.

jaime March 4, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Just to be clear, I’m not out to bash Wyatt on a personal level nor am I putting her personal business out on the street. I’m also not out to argue with the National Women Veterans Association America as also I support organizations who help or support troops and veterans. Everything I have said in previous statements are made on strictly professional observations. Its just a slap in the face to honest veterans including myself to see a lying, manipulative, and unsat sailor enjoying unwarrented benifits while being put on high pedestal.

Elisa Wyatt March 5, 2013 at 8:49 am

Jamie, you say you served with me. What is your last name? Which command? Are you still on Active Duty? Do you have the courage to come forward and reveal your full name, rate, and rank? We shall see.

Elisa Wyatt March 5, 2013 at 8:53 am

Attempting to bash me on a personal level is exactly what you are attempting to do. You say you have “firsthand knowledge of me and my circumstances.” What role did you play at the command of which you speak? Were you directly in charge of supervising me?

Elisa Wyatt March 5, 2013 at 8:57 am

I notice that you do not deny that I was trained in a COMBAT role and placed in harm’s way, which IS the focus of this article.

Tara March 5, 2013 at 9:02 am

Jamie, This is exactly why National Women Veterans Association of America exist. Elisa if Jamie has no internal required knowledge to give the final say over your service, than he is considered slanderous and warrant legal action. When the military discharges a servicemember there are many variables taken into consideration. I would never dare to say these things with out the facts. After reviewing this service members data, NWVAA agrees that she served honorable and therefore EARNED her benefits.

Elisa Wyatt March 5, 2013 at 9:07 am

This short article was NOT DESIGNED to tell the entirety of my story. There is a lot more to my story than being injured during combat training, deploying to Afghanistan injured, and being placed in harm’s way while I was in the war zone.

Besides having warheads and car bombs detonating very near to me and traveling “outside the wire” in the performance of my duties, I also experienced the “friendly fire” of being SEXUALLY ASSAULTED and being denied justice and treated as the problem after reporting it.

jaime March 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm

No I was I never in charge of you…(Thank God) Im just another person on a long list of people who have had the displeasure of having to interact with you. If what I’m saying isnt true then why go to great lengths to argue against it? I mean afterall, this is just a comment section on a online news story right? Why not go and continue on with your life and ignore the haters? Two Words: Guilty Conscience. Anyways Ive grown bored with this. Elisa I hope you enjoy your free handout, and I pray for your soul.

Jaime March 5, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I would like retract all prior statements. I apologize to EW and the NWVAA.

Honey March 6, 2013 at 4:34 am

First off – I will say thank you for your service.

I am a little confused at some if the comments/statements – Ms Wyatt – you argue the point that you were indeed trained for combat…it has always been said that ‘if you don’t want to go to combat, don’t volunteer for the military’ (discussions/joining/military.com) so although I understand you were perhaps less likely – why would anyone think any job is safe from harm? The job is based on the needs of the military – and in the last 10+ years, those needs have all been in or near combat situations.

Tara – while I will agree that the comments originally stated were not directly responses to the article, the type of behavior would have been documented – so proof would exist. Often our perception of our work behavior does not always mirror what others perceive of us. Missing or late appointments would cause a significant devaluing of integrity – in the private sector leads to disciplinary action up to and including termination. However, as this was a military issue and probably post-injury, they may have only documented without affecting discharge.

Also, you state that the comments could be slanderous – again, this would only be if these could not be proven – but may not have affected the actual discharge. You also state, “This comment is all to(sic) common of the lack of support for victims of military sexual assault” – the article never stated any actual assault (there was mention of kidnapping potential, etc) and the comment made by Jaime (m/f?) did not accuse/address any falsification of that – so how do you accuse someone of not supporting a victim of sexual assault – when not only was the information not provided, but not remotely stated? Would that not also be considered slanderous? It would seem that this added information by your statement serves only to inflame the conversation and place focus on your own agenda.

And Mr/Ms Jaime – I understand your frustration, but there is a time and place for everything, if you encounter a wrong – the time to address it is as close to the offense as possible. Hindsight is always a more difficult argument.

For the record, I am not currently serving though I have plenty around me (grandfather, 2 brothers, sister, brother-I-l, 4 cousins, best friend & her hubby). I hope to join after this next semester is over, I’m working on a direct commission JAG – **keeping fingers crossed**

Elisa Wyatt March 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Jamie’s “cheap shot” comments just go to show how women who do SPEAK UP can feel targeted and harassed EVEN AFTER THEY LEAVE THE SERVICE!

You say you knew OF me, yet it is obvious that you did not and do not really KNOW ME.

You say you knew of my circumstances, but did you really? Did you ever approach me directly? Did you ever ask me? Did you ever listen to me tell you the entirety of my story with an open heart and an open mind?

You were not there when I was injured. You were not even aware that I had been sexually assaulted, so it seems that you were more informed by the gossip and lies and propaganda of the military rumor mill, along with a very narrow-minded vision of what you thought you saw, than by what was actually going on.

That is what makes “invisible injuries” so difficult. I am still relatively young, and I still have all my limbs, so I do not “appear” to be injured, and it becomes easy to point the finger at me and claim I did not make the requisite sacrifices to warrant being compensated for my injuries.

I assure you: I served honorably and courageously and stayed committed to serving my country to the best of my ability to the very end, even when “the best of my ability” changed because of my injuries, and I required a live-in caregiver to assist me with getting through the rest of my time on Active Duty.

As a woman placed “unofficially” in a combat situation, I had to work harder than my counterparts to earn even the baseline level of respect I deserved, ESPECIALLY after being injured and having my injuries affect my performance!

You cannot know how much pain and suffering and betrayal and stress and loss it took to reduce me to what you may have thought you witnessed.

I did not feel like I had completely left the “war zone” even after I got back to the states because of people within the system who were choosing to perpetuate the MST (Military Sexual Trauma) PROBLEM by harassing me, seeking to discredit me at every turn, downplaying and denying what I went through, and doing everything they could to railroad me out of the military with as few benefits as possible.

I am not the problem. How women(and men, for that matter) are criminally mistreated for reporting a crime while their perpetrators are protected and promoted is a bigger problem than my performance suffering AFTER I had COMPLEX PTSD from being exposed to COMBAT AND SEXUAL trauma as well as brain and spinal cord injuries while being under-diagnosed and over-medicated so as to cover up the truth about the true extent of what had happened to me.

The system may be flawed, but I still love my country and am thankful to the military for giving me the opportunity to serve! I went to the war zone willingly, even after hearing in combat training that I would be “at a high risk for isolation, capture, torture, and being shot at and blown up.” I did not run away, but rather, swallowed hard, paid close attention, and forged ahead with my fellow comrades.

I did not mean to put myself on a pedestal just by stating the facts. I can not UNDO what I experienced just as you can not DENY what I experienced. It is still hard for me to forget how I ran for my life to the nearest bunker on base every time the explosions started or how every time I ventured off base, I had to face the possibility that I might be captured or killed. It is still hard for me to not be tense around everyone I come into contact with, whether I know them well or not. Calling me a liar does not make me one, and your attempts to discredit me can not cover up or completely conceal the truth.

You speak of the symptoms of my injuries yet claim I was lying about being injured. You speak of the challenges I faced, yet you give me no credit for staying in the game and striving to overcome them. You reference the emotional walls I put up to protect my heart from years of being overly stressed as well as persecuted and abused by those in the system who were choosing to be part of the problem, and yet you do not recognize them as such.

The fact that I got an honorable discharge and any benefits in light of what I had to endure for nearly three years after reporting the criminal actions of my Army supervisor — a sexual predator who worked directly for a high ranking officer — is a miracle and a testament to the fact that I am telling the truth, and I refuse to give up or give in despite how much pressure is placed on me.

If you knew me personally, you would have pointed out how I was before this deployment and how I have changed both for the better and for the worse.

If you knew me professionally — PRE-INJURY, when I was still working in my area of expertise — you would know that I had a keen mind, a joyful spirit, an excellent attitude, a strong work ethic, an insatiable eagerness to learn, and that while I may not have been perfect, I was very trainable and open to feedback, advice, and instruction.

If you knew me at all, you would know that I am not a flat, one-dimensional person with no redeeming qualities.

All I can do is stand in my truth, speak up for myself, and report what I experienced. I refuse to be shamed into silence. If that makes me belligerent, then it just goes to show how hard I had to fight to have my voice heard.

I still believe that asking a high-ranking officer what they are personally doing about the MST PROBLEM in the military is more of an opportunity for them to prove how they are accountable than an act of disrespect on my part. The fact that I had to stand up for myself to high-ranking officers just goes to show how high the problem goes!

I will always be thankful for my family and friends and people like Tara and organizations like the National Women Veterans Association of America who choose to be part of the SOLUTION rather than the problem. You showed me that I am not alone, and that I do deserve to fight for what I know to be right, even if with everyone who doubted me and treated me with disdain.

Honey, thank you for acknowledging my service. I wish you the best of luck in your future military goals. You seem like someone who is open to seeing things honestly and objectively while considering all the possibilities involved. Please promise me you will choose to be part of the solution even when it is not convenient or popular.

Jamie, your apology is noted. Thank you.

Honey March 6, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Ms Wyatt – I strive to be objective though I’m sure there may be times when I am not. :). Good luck to you as well.

Elisa Wyatt March 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Thanks! Even having the desire to be objective is a great start in my book. It is all to easy to rattle off a negative opinion and be a “hater” without knowing the full story.

Elisa Wyatt March 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm

*even with

Honey March 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Just out of curiosity – did anyone notice no one has gotten the other commenter’s name right? It clearly says ‘Jaime’ – but all the replies write ‘Jamie’… Is it a purposeful attack? Or simple oversight? (I personally hate when people misspell or think my name is something different – it’s offensive)

Elisa Wyatt March 6, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Please excuse me. You are right. It IS spelled differently. Brain injuries. Gotta love ’em. (So frustrating, I PROMISE!) My eyes still see, and my ears still hear, but the signal gets scrambled sometimes when it gets to my brain. Every TBI is different in the part(s) of the brain it effects. It’s no fun remembering how I used to be (97/99 on the ASVAB) and comparing it to how I am now, especially when people think it is the way I have always been.

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