“Did you know your husband is living with a female?”
That’s what a fellow Navy wife told me when my husband was deployed to Iraq with his Seabee battalion in 2007. When I was told that husband was living with a female sailor, I wasn’t jealous, nervous or upset. Mostly I was just confused. So I asked my husband about it. He quickly explained that yes, technically he was sharing a space with her (because they didn’t have time to build a separate room for a woman), so they put up a wall to divide the space. That reasoning made sense to me. It wasn’t the Hilton. It was a deployment.
Eight years later, I’m amazed with the number of active duty females I see on base. You can see that the military world isn’t a man’s world anymore. And as the Defense Department facilitates the transition of more females into combat roles, the logistics of a coed fighting force are being ironed out with various trials and experiments. One of those gender-integration experiments is taking place in 29 Palms, Calif.
Marines assigned to the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force are living side-by-side “in tents— regardless of gender— the way a future integrated unit might expect to live during field training or downrange on a deployment.” The Marines chose their tent mate; in this experiment, all the females decided to pair up with another female. There are separate shower facilities.
Related: Carter Says Women in Combat Could Be More Vulnerable to Sexual Predators
Besides completing their typical training, the Marines are also given the opportunity to give feedback about integrated unit cohesion throughout the experiment. These surveys and interviews will be analyzed and published in a study by the Center for Naval Analyses. The study will analyze the “Marines’ perception of the unit as a whole,” according to the Military Times article.
This same article said that “despite the close quarters and privacy challenges, Marines said they settled easily into the arrangement.”
“It was really strange for some people at first,” said Cpl. Kevin Rodriguez, 22, who was directly assigned to a staff position at the artillery unit in the Military Times article. “But now it’s like we’re brothers and sisters. It happened really fast; I was pretty surprised. Now we’re sleeping together on the ground, on the back of the trucks, like it’s normal.”
Normal. As DoD works to incorporate women into combat roles, that’s what we need to strive for, a sense of normalcy. We need to strive for living conditions, coed or not, that feel normal to the service members experiencing these living conditions.