The debate will not end anytime soon. Women are a vital part of the U.S. military, but should all restrictions on their roles be removed?
Critics of women in combat recently got new ammunition with a report that the only woman in the Navy SEAL training pipeline dropped out.
The female midshipman voluntarily decided to not continue participating in a summer course that's required of officers who want to be selected for SEAL training, Lt. Cmdr. Mark Walton, a Naval special warfare spokesman, told The Associated Press. No other woman has started the long process required to become a Navy SEAL.
Yet against the backdrop of such a development it is important to note that women are playing key roles in leadership in the military – and future prospects are bright. An important event occurred Monday at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy.
Simone Askew became the first black woman to lead the Long Gray Line. The 20-year-old international history major from Fairfax, Virginia, assumed duties as first captain of the 4,400-member Corps of Cadets. That's the highest position in the cadet chain of command at West Point.
"It's humbling, but also exciting as I step into this new opportunity to lead the corps to greatness with my teammates with me," a beaming Askew, still in camouflage fatigues from a march, Askew told AP and other news organizations.
As first captain, Askew is responsible for the overall performance of the Corps of Cadets. Her duties also include implementing a class agenda and acting as a liaison between the cadets and the administration.
Pat Locke, one of two African-American women in the first class of women to graduate from West Point in 1980, said, "I can't believe this has happened in my lifetime. When I entered the Academy in 1976, the men did not want us there. Now 40 years later, everybody recognizes the talent and skills women bring to the game."
Women make up about 20 percent of cadets, who are usually commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army upon graduation.
Locke, a West Point volunteer who has been a mentor to Askew and other cadets, said she'll hold her up as a role model for girls when she holds workshops on leadership and academics at schools in inner cities around the country.
And a good example she is, a woman expected to follow in the footsteps of many great West Point graduates, not the least of whom is Col. Kristin Baker, the first female to be West Point’s first captain in 1989. She is today commander of the Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe, Analytic Center.
Among the more than 200,000 women in the active-duty military, there are 69 generals and admirals. It would be no surprise in coming years to see Askew follow in their footsteps.
As Brig. Gen. Steven W. Gilland, commandant of West Point cadets said, "Simone truly exemplifies our values of Duty, Honor, Country.”