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    An Important Change to a Long-standing Pentagon Policy

    Zoe Dunning

    Zoe Dunning

    Happy holidays to you! This is often a time for reflection and sharing. In this column I want to share some good news and reflect on how we can reach out to those who may not be surrounded by loved ones this holiday season.

    As a veteran, I try to stay up on the news that impacts our service members and veterans. In case you missed it, this month brought us a significant announcement. On December 3, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the Pentagon would open up all military occupations, to include all combat roles, to qualified women. Secretary Carter took this bold position despite some objections from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who felt his Marine Corps could not comply.

    This change in policy, which will take effect shortly after the New Year, will allow women to fill about 220,000 jobs that are now limited to men—including infantry, reconnaissance and some special operations units. Although this is a significant milestone for the U.S. military, it is not unique. Around the world, at least 16 industrialized countries—mostly U.S. allies—allow women in combat roles. Some have been doing it for more than a decade.

    One of the strongest arguments for opening up all roles is that, in reality, women have been facing combat situations for years. Of the more than 300,000 women who have served to date in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 9,000 have earned their branches’ equivalent of the combat action ribbon, more than 800 have been wounded, and about 160 have unfortunately died from combat, and non-combat-related, injuries. Any combat death is one too many, but to die in combat, yet have your country declare women are neither eligible nor fit for combat roles, is a slap in the face.

    This is an important step for full equality in the military for women. Many women will not be capable of passing the physical standards for some arduous combat roles, but as we have seen by the recent graduation of three women from the Army’s Ranger School, it is possible. Instead of using gender as a proxy for physical capability, let’s use gender-neutral standards and allow women to compete. I applaud the decision and look forward to seeing how it will be implemented.

    In other veteran news, I want to make readers aware of a great organization serving our veterans. Recently I joined the advisory board of Vets in Tech. Its mission is to assist current and returning veterans with re-integration services, and to connect them to the technology sector. The organization brings together the network, resources, and programs for veterans interested in technology education, entrepreneurship, and employment opportunities.

    When veterans return from their service, they bring skills such as leadership, discipline and teamwork. Vets in Tech augments their existing skill set where needed with online and intense classroom programs and then matches Vets with new skills to positions where those skills are needed. It also helps with resume writing and interview skills, connecting vets with mentors to help them find direction in the tech world, as well as providing job matching services and job fairs with local tech companies. For those vets who want to start their own companies, Vets in Tech offers opportunities for hackathons, pitch events, visionary and leadership speaker series, local meet-ups and networking events, and business plan competitions. These are very valuable services that will help our veterans to transition back into civilian life after serving our country.

    As we celebrate the winter holidays, I ask you to keep in mind our service men and women serving overseas. Not everyone is happy we still have troops overseas, myself included. And, as long as we do, we shouldn’t forget those serving are humans with families, hopes and dreams. They are separated from their families and friends and it would be welcome to get a care package or letter from home. If you search “care package for overseas troops” you’ll find a number of organizations that can give you addresses, or advice for what to send, or that will even send a package for you. You can give a one-time donation, or adopt a soldier and send monthly packages. It’s a nice way to stay connected and to show a service member that you care.

    Feeling alone and isolated, especially during the holidays, is not unique to our troops overseas. Many people right here in San Francisco can find the holidays depressing, being reminded of lost family or partners. We assume our friends have plans for the holidays, but that is not necessarily so. If you want to demonstrate the true spirit of the season, make sure you reach out to all your friends, particularly your single friends who may not have plans or may be overlooked. You can also volunteer at a number of food donation organizations or those that feed the needy through social service groups or churches, such as Glide. I hope you demonstrate the spirit of the season by sharing it with those who can use a helping hand.

    My best to you and your family. Enjoy the holidays!

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, as a San Francisco Library Commissioner, and as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club.