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Veterans React To Opening Of Combat Roles To Women


It's been an important week for the military. The Pentagon paved the way for women to officially serve in ground combat jobs. The move opens some 200,000 positions to women service members. So we sent Blake Farmer of member station WPLN to Fort Campbell, Ky., to gauge reaction.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Walk into Stacey Hopwood's civilian office, and it feels a bit like a Marine Corps museum.

STACEY HOPWOOD: Because I'm proud of it (laughter). We have a saying - once a Marine, always a Marine.

FARMER: Hopwood's retired and now helps the masses of veterans in the area sign up for services. She was a military police officer. She points to a unit photo from the first Gulf War era in which her cropped black hair is slicked back to meet Marine hairstyle regulations. A superior nagged her every day.

HOPWOOD: People used to kid me that I could get caught in a tornado and my hair wouldn't move. That just became, like, I am not ever going to get gigged on my hair ever.

FARMER: Hopwood says men didn't get called out for their crew cuts. She knows sexism still exists, but she says opening the door to combat jobs is meaningful.

HOPWOOD: To know that now we're finally on the same playing field because we weren't before.

FARMER: At a car wash just off the sprawling post, Private First Class Marstratton Gordon is vacuuming out his car. He has some concerns.

MARSTRATTON GORDON: Go and do what you got to do, but don't go out there, you know, thinking that you're, you know, Billy [expletive] - just because you're a female, you got something to prove.

FARMER: Gordon's unit already has some women, and he says he doesn't have a problem with it. And upon reflection, he says there's one sergeant he'd follow into battle.

GORDON: I would love to go underneath her. And just whatever she told me to do, I'd do it because she knows what she's doing.

BRANDON SCOTT: We really don't care. We wouldn't mind it at all.

FARMER: Specialist Brandon Scott is an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division. He just returned from Afghanistan. His unit has no women, but it teamed up with some female Navy drone pilots while on patrol.

SCOTT: They did their job really well.

FARMER: I talked to several active-duty women who said the Pentagon's decision changes nothing. They never wanted to see ground combat anyway. But Specialist Charlie Lindsey has been revved-up since she enlisted two years ago.

CHARLIE LINDSEY: I tried to join the SEALs and asked if I could be a SEAL. They said no. I said, why? They said, because you're a female. I said, well, that doesn't make any sense; that's crap. So I joined the Army.

FARMER: Lindsey wears a patch on her uniform showing she completed the 101st Airborne's demanding Air Assault School. She applauds the top brass for the vote of confidence.

LINDSEY: I think we deserve that opportunity because we do just the same thing that the men do. We're capable of the same things.

FARMER: Now that a special forces job is an option, Lindsey says she's got a career decision to make. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer at Fort Campbell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.