March 8 (yesterday) was International Women’s Day and one of the issues that swirled around that net was that of women in combat. JMC brought to my attention the transcript of an interview done with Columbia professor, Helen Benedict, and two Iraq veterans: Specialist Mickiela Montoya with the National Guard and Eli Painted Crow, an Army veteran of 22 years. Dr. Benedict also penned an article for Salon.com (premium registration required although the full article is here) which addressed much of what is in the interview.
Through Dr. Benedict and the female Iraq veterans, we learn of the tragic consequences of being female in combat. At least three women are claimed to have died as a result of dehydration because it was commonly known that going to the bathroom at night would subject a female soldier to assault and possible rape. The soldiers would stop drinking water around 3 or 4 in the afternoon so a late night latrine visit wasn’t necessary. Montoya described that they would cut off the tops of the water bottles and void in those bottles to dump in the morning.
Jennifer Spranger, 23, who was deployed at the beginning of the war with the Military Police to build and guard Camp Bucca, a prison camp for Iraqis, had a similar experience.
“My team leader offered me up to $250 for a hand job. He would always make sure that we were out alone together at the beginning, and he wouldn’t stop pressuring me for sex. If somebody did that to my daughter I’d want to kill the guy. But you can’t fit in if you make waves about it. You rat somebody out, you’re screwed. You’re gonna be a loner until they eventually push you out.”
Sexual assault is not inevitable with the right leadership. According to the interviews conducted by Dr. Benedict,
Several soldiers I interviewed told me that if a commander won’t tolerate the mistreatment of women, it will not happen, and studies back this up. Jennifer Hogg, 22, who was a sergeant in the Army’s National Guard, said her company treated her well because she had a commander who wouldn’t permit the mistreatment of women. But another National Guard soldier, Demond Mullins, 25, who served with the infantry in Iraq for a year from 2004-05, told me that a commander in his camp turned a blind eye to rape all the time.
Dr. Benedict is the author of the upcoming book, Women at War: Combat and Conscience in Iraq.