Around Government

Women in the war zone test the Pentagon’s combat policy.

By Caitlin Fairchild

A hot-button issue at the 2011 Veterans Forum hosted by California State University, Los Angeles was the role of women in war zones. Long excluded from combat units, female service members are increasingly on the front lines. A screening of the documentary

Lioness at the forum pointed up the challenges for an all-female search team in Iraq. 

The 2008 film followed five women detailed to Lioness, the first program in U.S. history to send women into direct ground combat. Usually serving as Army mechanics, supply clerks and engineers, they embarked on a new mission—
defusing tension with Iraqi civilians. But whenever violence broke out, the women fought alongside Marine combat units. 

Critics say the current policy excluding women from combat units is particularly dangerous, because they don’t receive the same training as their male counterparts on the front lines. This may soon change, however. Last spring, a Pentagon commission recommended that the Defense Department end the exclusion policy, and the Congressional Research Service issued a report in November to aid Congress as it takes up the issue.

But for the search team, the pressing challenges aren’t here in Washington, but back in the war zone. “When I got home I wanted to go back,” said Capt. Anastasia Breslow, a member of the Lioness team. “It was great to be home; I appreciated everything so much more. But everyday life seemed so average, and there was still more work to be done over there.”

Why Do We Need Government Again?

As some Republican presidential candidates have called for the elimination of as many federal agencies as they can remember, former President Bill Clinton weighs in with a defense of Uncle Sam in his new book, Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy (Knopf, 2011). 

In the third chapter—headlined “Why We Need Government”—he provides a list of federal functions today, including national defense, assistance to those who cannot support themselves, and economic oversight and development. 

“I think the role of government is to give people the tools and create the conditions to make the most of our lives,” Clinton writes. “Government should empower us to do things we need or want to do that we can only do together by pooling our resources and spending them in large enough amounts to achieve the desired objectives.” 

- Rebecca Carroll

 

Valentine Vets

 

Donors provide weddings with all the trimmings for military couples.

Weddings can be elaborate, expensive affairs that are carefully planned often for more than a year. But in Ontario, Calif., 10 military couples didn’t have to pay a dime or lift a finger to tie the knot. Operation Cupid provided all-expenses-paid ceremonies for the couples, who hailed from all the military branches. The service members were either returning from or deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

From gowns and tuxes to flowers and limousines, local business owners donated everything needed for the nuptials. In late October 2011, the couples walked in a mile-long parade along with veterans groups and military marching bands as the town cheered and pilots flew overhead in antique World War II fighter planes. Then they gathered for a ceremony and reception for 600 people at the Hilton Ontario Airport Hotel.

The idea began with local journalist Bill Anthony and Ryan Orr, founder of Operation Community Cares—a nonprofit organization to support the troops. “I was shocked to find out how many military personnel couldn’t get married,” Anthony said. “Some have run to courthouses to get married before being redeployed, so in case they died in action their spouses would at least get some benefits.”

- Caitlin Fairchild

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