The media is focusing on how women in combat will affect military readiness. But no one is talking about the impact it will have on the military families whose loved ones are stationed in distant lands.
I know about the pressures military families endure because I experienced them first-hand. When my husband was assigned to a combat unit during the 2007 surge in Iraq, the only way we could reliably communicate was via instant message and text. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear for him for days and weeks. On one occasion, an entire month passed without a word.
One day, we were instant messaging when he typed the word “she.” I looked at my screen. “A woman?” I typed. A female had been temporarily transferred to his unit’s forward operating base —
an unusual occurrence.
My husband and I were aware of the unfaithfulness threat during deployment. His friends would come home on leave only to find their wives gone or pregnant. Some received “Dear John” letters. Others saw photos of their wives with other men on Facebook.
To safeguard our marriage, I decided not to look up old flames on Facebook, not to have long personal conversations with men, and not to drink. But the idea of him being unfaithful during his service abroad never occurred to me.
He did not have an affair. During his deployment, a few women did cycle through his forward operating base. Sadly, the vast majority ended up ensnared in some sort of sexual impropriety.
Fortunately, our family of four — now five — survived the deployment, and we are better off for my husband’s courageous and sacrificial decision to serve in the military. (He is a Harvard Law graduate who left his job as a constitutional attorney to serve his country.)
But let’s just be honest about it. The military already has an infidelity problem. When images of David Petraeus flash across the screens of spouses left behind, images of real or imagined affairs flash across the minds of the loved ones left back home.
Soldiers in combat units serve in extraordinarily close quarters. Men sleep next to one another in vehicles or in makeshift tents. The constant danger exhausts them, the heat crushes their spirits, and the separations from loved ones invariably lead to cracks appearing in relationships.
Adding women to this equation is an offense to the military families struggling to get by in the soldiers’ absence. Sure, it gives women more career opportunities within the military. But it hurts the spouses left back home. And apparently nobody is thinking about them.
It appears that a sincere desire to treat men and women as equals has duped some politicians into pretending that they really are the same. They are not.
I am an author. One day when my husband was away, an unusually enthusiastic reader showed up at our house as I was playing with the kids in the backyard. He had an empty gun holster on his hip and had blocked my driveway.
I immediately sent the children inside the house, where my daughter called neighbors for help. Believe me, the sight of my neighbor — a mother — walking down my driveway toward me was a welcome sight. But I was even more thankful to see her strong teenage son marching right beside her.
Now, we have many female neighbors who are no doubt strong and brave. But when it mattered most, all three women involved — my daughter, my neighbor, and myself — all knew that the presence of a guy was needed.
It is just common sense: No matter how many glass ceilings are shattered, if my husband is shattered in war a woman could not carry him to safety. Having that woman on the front lines will destroy unit cohesion -- and it may destroy families as well.
I believe military families have enough challenges. Loosening gender restrictions will only make our challenges tougher, our burdens heavier, and our marriages and families weaker.
Infidelity may be the most underreported scandal of the war. Thank you, Secretary Leon Panetta, for making a bad situation exponentially worse.
Nancy French is a two time New York Times best-selling author who co-authored "Home and Away - A Story of Family in a Time of War," with David French. She also wrote "Not Afraid of Life" (with Bristol Palin); "A Winning Balance" (with Shawn Johnson); and "Red State of Mind."
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