By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Local veterans and veterans’ advocates agreed on one fact Friday after learning that women could go into combat — the world is changing.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week about lifting a ban on women serving in combat that women have become an important part of the military and have demonstrated their willingness to fight alongside male soldiers.
Panetta told the Associated Press that qualifications are not being lowered, and that women should have the opportunity to go into combat duties if they wish to do so and can meet qualifications. Some local veterans and people who work with veterans agreed that woman should have the chance to accept combat duty.
“I really haven’t given it a lot of thought,” Dreama Denver, president of the Denver Foundation, said Friday. Denver is co-founder of the West Virginia Always Free Honor Flight, a program that provides free trips to Washington, D.C. for veterans who want to see the World War II Memorial and other monuments.
“I think there’s some tough women out there, and I think if a woman wants a combat role, there’s no reason why she should not be able to serve her country that way. We’re all Americans,” Denver said.
One local veterans’ advocate who is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force had worked with women while serving his country. Al Hancock, of Bluefield, was not in combat; he did the dangerous work involved with handling volatile aviation fuel.
“Over the years, I had a lot of females working for me in my capacity as a noncommissioned officer in the Air Force,” Hancock recalled. “I worked in refueling maintenance, servicing the vehicles that take fuel to the aircraft. We had all-brass and then all-aluminum tools that did not throw out sparks, and everything was grounded so it did not throw out sparks. These females who were working for me over the years, for the job they were doing, they were awfully good.”
As the years have progressed, women are taking on more jobs that were once exclusively for men. They have demonstrated the mental ability and stamina for these tasks, Hancock said.
“Years ago, you hardly ever saw a female driving a tractor-trailer across the country,” he said. “You’re seeing more females in jobs that were mostly dominated by men. You didn’t see that 50 or 60 years ago. If they decided they’re going to take on a job, it’s going to get done.”
Hancock predicted that getting everyone to accept women in combat is “going to take a while.”
One veteran of the Korean War knows what it is like to be an infantry soldier facing an invading army. Conrad Jenkins, 80, of Lashmeet remembers fighting Chinese soldiers during the bitterly cold Korean winter.
“Things have changed over the years as far as women are concerned,” Jenkins said. “As far as women in combat is concerned, it is up to the individual to a point. I don’t think women should be in combat unless it is something they choose to do.”
Women have “been great support” behind the front lines, he said. However, he doubted everybody would accept seeing women on the front lines of a war.
“It would keep their families worried to death about them being on the lines,” Jenkins said. “It’s a hard decision to make it mandatory.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org