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Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said earlier this month that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women. “There will be no exceptions,” Carter said. “They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat.”
We were curious about this monumental change, so we reached out to Fox News Channel correspondent Lea Gabrielle, who served as a fighter pilot and intelligence operations officer in the U.S. Navy from May 1997 to June 2009.
TVNewser: What does this mean for women already in the military?
Gabrielle: There is no question that opening more jobs to women will improve their career advancement opportunities. We have recently seen several women graduate from the Army’s Ranger school – these are amazing, courageous women. And this latest decision means some women will now choose to take on the challenge of competing for a position in the most elite and physically demanding Special Operations communities. These units are comprised of essentially the best all-around physical specimens of men, in the prime of their lives. So the physical hurdle for women who choose this path is evident, but these communities also select their members based on some intangibles – like how well they fit in – and that presents a different set of challenges.
TVNewser: Would your role have been different if these changes took place when you were serving?
Gabrielle: I would not choose a different path than the one I took because I believe I served to the best of my ability, using the attributes I was born with. After I deployed as an F/A-18C pilot, I later served as an intelligence operator on the ground with one of the most elite Special Operations units in the military, supporting them in combat operations in Afghanistan. I was the only woman deployed with this small unit. This is the type of role women can uniquely serve in to directly support Special Operations, and it was my most rewarding time in the military. I have the ultimate respect for the men I served with in this unit, and I also respect how we are different. They did their job, I did mine. Together, we made a great team.
The question at this point is not whether some women can do it – I am certain there are women who can. But being part of the military means being part of a team – and that means doing what is best for the team. We should give them the space away from politics and public opinion to make the assessment and decide if having women serve in their roles will make their units stronger. If the answer is not a clear ‘yes’, it is a clear ‘no’, and it is a mistake to force this at a time when our country needs them most.
TVNewser: How did your experience in the Navy help you as a TV correspondent?
Gabrielle: Serving in the military has been my life’s foundation. I learned to pay attention to the details and to thrive in fast-moving ambiguous situations that require timely and decisive action. In television news, you have to be able to quickly assess a situation, determine what is fact, and trust yourself to present the information in a way that makes sense to your viewers. Just like landing an F/A-18 on an aircraft carrier, or being tested on the ground in a combat environment, you have to get it right the first time.