Female Troops: Combat Ban Out Of Step With Reality The U.S. military bars women from serving on the front lines in combat, but those lines are often blurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 200,000 women have served in those conflicts in the past decade, and many have engaged in firefights on a regular basis.
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Female Troops: Combat Ban Out Of Step With Reality

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Female Troops: Combat Ban Out Of Step With Reality

Female Troops: Combat Ban Out Of Step With Reality

Female Troops: Combat Ban Out Of Step With Reality

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The U.S. military bars women from serving on the front lines in combat, but those lines are often blurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 200,000 women have served in those conflicts in the past decade, and many have engaged in firefights on a regular basis.

Rachel Martin, national security correspondent, NPR
Kayla Williams, former sergeant, U.S. Army


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Mary Louise Kelly in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

More than 200,000 women have served in the U.S. military, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those women are restricted from direct ground combat. But in wars where the front line is often unclear, even the top military leadership has recognized the policy does not reflect the reality.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): I know what the law says, and I know what it requires, but I'd be hard pressed to say that any woman who serves in Afghanistan today or who served in Iraq over the last few years did so without facing the same risks of their male counterparts.

KELLY: That's Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Pentagon says it is reviewing policies that define where women can and can't be assigned, and in the next two weeks a congressional commission is expected to recommend that the military lift restrictions on assigning women to direct combat roles.

Well, we want to hear from women who have served in the military. How close did you come to combat? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. And if you want to share your opinion on whether the Pentagon's policy should be changed, do that by sending us an email. You can write to us at talk@npr.org. Or you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, we'll consider a no-fly zone for Libya. But first, I'm joined here in Studio 3A by NPR national security correspondent Rachel Martin. She reported a series on the changing roles of women in the military last week on MORNING EDITION, and you can find a link to that series at our website. Rachel, welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.

RACHEL MARTIN: Thanks, Mary Louise, happy to be here.

KELLY: Good. So let me start by being absolutely clear. What exactly is the policy that governs women in combat?

MARTIN: And it's important to really get the words right because this is about not necessarily prohibiting women from being in combat but making sure they're not assigned to units whose primary mission is direct ground combat. And that's what the policy says.

It was written in 1994. Then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspen put this into place. And if you'll permit me, I'll just read explicitly what it says.

KELLY: Yeah, please.

MARTIN: That personnel can be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat.

So that means women can't take part in artillery units. The women can't be part of the infantry. Women can't be part of special forces operations.

KELLY: But they could be in support roles or logistic roles or medic roles, other things that might very well take them right up to the front.

MARTIN: Exactly, and as you mentioned in the intro to this piece, hundreds of thousands of women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army tells me that as of February 1st of this year, 636 Army women have been wounded in action, more than 100 killed in these wars.

So women in uniform are in combat all the time. These are wars without front lines. So anybody who is over in these war zones can be caught up in combat. So it doesn't really matter if you're assigned to a combat unit or not.

So the big debate is should we - we need to get the policy in line with reality, that there's somehow a major disconnect between what's actually happening on the ground and what the policy says.

KELLY: Okay, well, let's look at some of the efforts that are afoot to try to change the policy. We mentioned this congressional commission that has been looking at it. They're expected to come out very soon with a recommendation. What exactly are they expected to recommend, and what is that actually going to do? It's not binding in any way.

MARTIN: Yeah. So this is a military commission that was mandated by Congress in 2009. It's called the Military Leadership Diversity Commission. It's comprised of current and retired military officials.

And the purpose of the commission was to evaluate, in part, the Pentagon's combat exclusion policy for women, making sure that women aren't getting short shrift professionally by being excluded from these units.

And after more than a year of meeting regularly, the commission came to the conclusion that it will recommend to the president and Congress that the policy change. They are expected to submit that recommendation by March 15th. And why is this significant?

Well, it gets the debate started in a real way, to have a congressional committee saying, officially, for the first time this policy needs to go, the fact that this isn't just retired folks, that there are some very high-up generals involved in this commission who are saying, you know, this is something I've been opposed to, but now I've changed my mind.

It's important to note that this was not a unanimous decision though. There were a couple of holdouts. And that gets to some of the sticking points in the debate. And we can get into that.

There are obviously many people who would say that this policy doesn't reflect reality, we need to change it, but there are more pragmatic implications. It affects how women are promoted.

If they can't say they served in such-and-such combat unit, then it doesn't get them on the fast track to certain promotions. There are some jobs, if you could check that box that says I commanded troops in combat, it puts you on a really direct route to getting the top jobs.

KELLY: To getting promoted to general...

MARTIN: Exactly.

KELLY: ...or admiral or whatever it is that you're gunning for.

MARTIN: And if you're not, then it's a little more of a non-linear route to those jobs. So there's a small group of women who say this isn't fair. We're careerists. We're not women who are just doing this for a few years. We want long-term careers in the military. This is putting us at a disadvantage.

The arguments on the other side are manifold(ph). People say it affects unit cohesion. Having men and women serve together in intense combat situations can change the chemistry of a unit and creates all kinds of tensions. Sexual harassment can become an issue. What if a woman gets pregnant and she can't deploy? Her unit depends on her. This obviously affects the unit cohesion.

But the real sticking point in this commission, why it wasn't unanimous, was that people had a concern that if you change this policy, how does that affect recruiting?

As of now, when a man goes into a recruiting office, he says I want to be part of the Army, the Army comes back to him and says, fine, here's your infantry billet. You're going to serve in the infantry. You don't have a choice, this is the job we have available to you.

So what if the policy changes? Is that what it would be like for a woman to go into the recruiting office? She would just be told that she had to serve in a combat function when maybe she didn't want to?

People say that could be a problem. It could deter women from going into the services.

KELLY: Well, I guess one of the big questions here is: What does the Pentagon leadership say? Is there support for changing this policy among military officials, among the civilian leadership at the Pentagon?

MARTIN: Well, you just heard, not on the civilian side, but you did just hear Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, say that he understands that there's a disconnect, that he has...

KELLY: Understanding there's a disconnect doesn't mean he wants to (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: Very true, and he hasn't said either way, in a public forum, whether or not this is something that he would support. Neither has Secretary of Defense Robert Gates weighed in on this. It's obviously a very sensitive time.

We just went through the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. This is not a debate the Pentagon is anxious to have publicly, although as you also mentioned, Congress has now ordered the Pentagon itself, not just this congressional committee, but ordered the Pentagon itself to look into whether or not this combat exclusion policy needs to change.

KELLY: Let me bring a caller in to join our conversation. This is Lydia(ph) on the line from Clarkston, Washington. Hi, Lydia, you're on the air.

LYDIA (Caller): Hi. I just was calling in to let you know that I served in the - I was (unintelligible) Navy, and my main purpose there was to be perimeter security for one of our base camps.

KELLY: Security perimeter for base camp, okay.

LYDIA: Perimeter security, yeah. Force protection is what they called us. Basically, we were standing at a gate, patrolling, and I was part of the group, part of the guys. And I was one of very few females that did it, 110 degree weather.

And it would have really helped to get that kind of recognition that the males would have gotten because everything you hear in the news today is about our boys in blue out there, you know, doing all these things and how it affects their lives. But yet you don't hear about the women that go out there, and they don't get the recognition that they deserve.

KELLY: Rachel, this question of recognition, we're doing the job anyway, why don't we get recognized the same way the men do.

MARTIN: Well, we should point out the military is very aware that there are no front lines, that that excludes women from being recognized in some ways.

Case in point, there was something called a combat infantry badge. This is something that an infantryman could get for being in combat, for being in these kinds of situations we're talking about, and it's a point of pride.

You can't get that if you're not in the infantry. The military recognized that and created a separate award called the combat action award. So you don't - it's service non-specific. It's assignment non-specific. So you don't just have to be in the infantry.

So there are some moves to kind of correct the imbalance, but you know, the caller also points to this kind of cultural attitude in the military. And this is not insignificant.

A big part of this debate isn't about whether or not women can do this work, it's whether or not they should, that there is somehow a general disconcertedness or uncomfortableness with the idea of idea of women, potentially mothers, wives, serving in combat.

And this is coming from people who are very high up in the military, who just say this isn't work that women should be doing.

KELLY: Okay, thanks so much for that call, Lydia. We appreciate it. Let me take another call here. This is Audrey(ph) on the line from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Hi, Audrey.

AUDREY (Caller): Hi, how are you?

KELLY: Great, thanks. Thanks for calling.

AUDREY: Wonderful. So I was a platoon leader in Iraq before, during and after the surge. And I led a military police platoon, definitely in combat, blown up myself, had female soldiers, you know, directly engage with the enemy, with, you know, high-caliber weapons and definitely saw that women can perform the job under intense circumstances.

But I think that the interesting point is whether or not they should. And I think a lot of people are just generally uncomfortable with it, but they haven't actually seen the women do the jobs. And once they see them do it, all of those questions about whether or not they should and that uncomfortableness really goes away, after seeing that there's no difference.

KELLY: Do you have any sympathy at all with the arguments that get made on the opposite? Rachel Martin here just listed a few of them, that there are physical questions, questions about sexual harassment, questions about unit cohesion. Did you experience any of that, Audrey?

AUDREY: Certainly, especially when it comes to the pregnancy issues. We did have soldiers - in fact, one of my soldiers got pregnant and had to be sent back early because of that.

And - but not necessarily on the unit cohesion side, but - and sexual harassment was also not a significant issue where I was.

But the physical question is significant. Now, I was in a military police unit. So we are mounted, by nature, although we did do dismounted patrols. But when you start talking about the infantry, which is what my husband actually was in, you know, I think that the key would be that if women were integrated into that, which I believe eventually they will be, that they just absolutely cannot change the standards.

And I think that when you come to the recruiting stations, they need to do an actual physical test, male or female, to make sure that you can do the job.

KELLY: Okay, Audrey, thanks so much for calling in. We appreciate it.

AUDREY: Thank you.

KELLY: Take care down there at Fort Bragg. We're here talking with NPR's Rachel Martin about her series on women in combat. Up next, we're also going to hear from former Army Sergeant Kayla Williams. She'll be talking about serving alongside men in the military.

If you have served, if you're a women, we want to hear from you. How close did you get to the fighting? Call us. We're at 800-989-8255. Or you can email us. Our address here is talk@npr.org. I'm Mary Louise Kelly. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Mary Louise Kelly. Neal Conan is away.

Female soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are prevented from being assigned to direct combat units, but in conflicts with no clear frontlines, anyone can get caught in the fighting, even if it's not in their job descriptions.

Lots of you are writing in, emailing us about this, and we're going to -here's a few of them, just to take you through some of the mail we're getting. This email from listener John Roberts(ph), who writes: As a believer in equal rights and as a military veteran, I think we should remove any limit on women serving in combat roles.

I also believe that women should register for and be subject to the draft. It's amazing that there have been many protests over the restriction on homosexuals serving openly in the military but none over the much more severe and blatant discrimination that only men are subject to the draft.

That's from listener John Roberts. Here's one from a different point of view, this from Phil Sullivan(ph) in Greenville, North Carolina. He writes: My girlfriend was a captain in the Army, not in the field, but she did go to airborne school. Her perspective is women are not as physically strong as men, and no soldier wants to be the weak member of the team.

And here's one more, again taking a pro-view here. This is from Nicole Mazur-Pullman(ph), writing from Washington. She writes: As a self-declared feminist, I fully support women serving in the military. However, women must serve in the same capacity as their male counterparts.

My husband served in the military and was a combat medic deployed to Iraq in 2004. In terms of numbers, women dominate the medic role in the Army. As such, when a soldier is required to be tasked on dangerous missions, the men are solely relied on.

My husband was repeatedly tasked-out with infantry divisions on dangerous missions because he was one of only a few men available for these missions. The situation is analogous to female firefighters. She writes: I don't care who pulls me out of a burning building, so long as they're capable of doing their job. Similarly, if women are to serve in the military, they must be both capable and permitted to do their job in its full capacity.

Well, thank you for your comments, and we do want to hear from you. If you are a woman, if you've served in the U.S. military, how close did you come to combat? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. And if you want to weigh in on whether the Pentagon's policy should be changed, send us an email. Our address is talk@npr.org. You can go to our website. That's at npr.org. And click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Well, with me now in Studio 3A are NPR's Rachel Martin and also one of the women who Rachel spoke to for her series, Kayla Williams, a former sergeant in the Army. She was part of the initial force that invaded Iraq in March of 2003. And Kayla Williams wrote a memoir about her experience. It's called "Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army." Kayla, welcome to the program.

Ms. KAYLA WILLIAMS (Former Sergeant, U.S. Army): Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So tell us exactly: What were you sent to do in Iraq?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I was actually sent to do signals intelligence, to do intercepts on enemy communications. I spoke Arabic. However, during the initial invasion, what there was a much greater need for was for me to actually translate between infantry commanders and the local population.

So I actually spent time in Baghdad going out on combat foot patrols with the infantry and helping to translate between the local people and our own troops, which I found just incredibly rewarding.

As our time in Iraq wore on, and we moved to new locations, I was able to do more of the job that I had been trained to do. But I did continue to spend time in extremely remote locations, very far from established forwarding operating bases, very far from any quick reaction force and quite a bit of time as the only female surrounded by just male troops.

KELLY: The only female in your unit.

Ms. WILLIAMS: No, the only female where I was.

KELLY: Where you were. And how did that work? How did the guys treat you?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Generally, I felt that I was treated as just one of the guys. During major combat operations, my gender was not an issue at all. The only thing that mattered was my ability to speak Arabic and do my job.

Later, when major combat operations were over, and we had a lot more time on our hands, a lot of stresses came to the fore because we weren't occupied at every moment in time with trying to stay alive. So the little things that bothered people on a regular basis had a chance to come to the fore.

KELLY: Like what?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Simple things, like you suddenly had the chance to worry about what was going on back home again. But that was also when sexual harassment became a little bit more of an issue because we had the time for people to think about something other than just the mission.

And at that point, I came to feel that I really had to be much more careful about being professional and not allowing for any of my behavior to be misconstrued because it was so easy for that to happen in that intense environment.

KELLY: I know you talked to Rachel a bit about a game where some of the male soldiers were throwing rocks at each other. Tell us what happened.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's hard to explain to civilians, but when people are trying to play baseball with rocks and sticks, just about anything seems fun. And most of the guys had holes in the crotches of their pants at this point, from the difficult environment, and they would try to throw rocks through that hole.

And when eventually they included me in their game by trying to throw rocks at my breasts, it wasn't as clear-cut as thinking: Oh, I'm being sexually harassed. It was more of: Oh, they're including me in their game. I just don't happen to have holes in my pants.

So that's the type of thing that can be hard to explain to people back home, but it's very complicated at times to untangle the difference between harassment and inclusion or between what behavior is normal and what isn't in a given environment.

KELLY: Right, and how that that plays out in terms of unit cohesion or whether you're damaging unit cohesion in any way by having men and women both up there in these forward operating units.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Right. And I think one of the things a lot of people misunderstand is what unit cohesion is about. And it isn't created by people being the same.

We have troops from all over the country, from small towns, from big cities, different ethnic and religious backgrounds. And what creates unit cohesion is doing things together: training together and fighting together.

And in that sense, I think that the addition of women to a larger number of units will not cause any more problem than previous rounds of integration have caused.

KELLY: So do you support a change in the policy as it currently is written?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I do. I think it's well-understood that the current policy - and the DOD policy that Rachel explained in detail earlier is slightly different from the Army policy.

The Army policy has additional layers to the definition, including regulations against women being assigned to units that co-locate with units that are doing direct ground combat. And the Army probably is not actually abiding by its own policy, though it probably is abiding by the DOD policy.

I do think it is time for a change. But you have gotten some calls and emails about questions and concerns about the physical capabilities of women, and I do think that that does need to be addressed. Whether it's by unit or by job, if there are positions that require any personnel to be able to perform specific tasks, then all personnel should have to perform those tasks.

When I was at the 101st, for example, we had a female in our unit who was 5'10", probably weighed 180 pounds, and she could carry a very heavy rucksack a very far distance compared to a male supply sergeant in our unit who was, you know, 5'4" and weighed 100 pounds and would have struggled with the same weight.

So if there's a requirement to be able to accomplish certain physical tasks, that should be universally applied, in my opinion.

KELLY: Well, again, we want to hear from you. If you're a woman, if you have served in the military, in Iraq or Afghanistan or in other conflicts, please call. Tell us your story. We'd love to hear how close you got to combat.

And NPR's Rachel Martin is still with us in the studio. And Rachel, tell us a little bit about this point that Kayla is raising, this issue of standards, if people are worried whether women are going to be able to carry their gear in the field, for example, or literally pull their weight in the field. What are the standards that govern what men and women need to be able to do?

MARTIN: That's a big deal, and I heard a lot about this from men and women, both agreeing, saying that there needs to be one unilateral standard, that women - women are currently held to a lower standard, a slightly lower standard when it comes to - and we're talking really about the Army because when we're talking about infantry and these combat units, we're talking about the Army and Marines. And the Army has a slightly lower standard for women.

So if you change the combat exclusion policy, allow women into all the combat arms, the military is going to have to create some kind of physical exam that you have to take in order to enter one of these units. That doesn't exist right now. So that would be something that they would have to consider.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Interestingly, the Army is testing such a thing now. It just came out, I believe, yesterday. The Army is considering a new physical fitness test that will be different from the current test. They're rolling it out to be tested at this point and validated.

And in conjunction with that, they're considering adding a combat readiness test. And if they were to implement this combat readiness test, I think that that could go a long way toward saying units or jobs that require these abilities, if women can pass that test, if men can pass that test, they could qualify. But if somebody can't, they can't qualify for that job.

KELLY: Okay. And just to clarify, we're talking a lot about the Army here and specific Army standards. This is a policy that would obviously apply a bit more to, say, women serving in Army or Marines because they would be the ones who would tend to be more on the ground.

MARTIN: Exactly. When we talk about combat arms, we're talking about specific units that are involved in direct ground combat. The Army and the Marines are the services that deal with direct ground combat.

So the policy would affect all the branches of the military. But when we talk about where women are primarily excluded, it's in the Army and the Marines. The Air Force and other branches have been more liberal in their inclusion of women in more combat-oriented positions. Yet still, they're not completely open to women either.

Ms. WILLIAMS: The Navy just recently opened submarine assignments to females.

KELLY: Okay. Let me see if we can work a caller in to our conversation here. We've got Gwen. She's on the line from St. Louis. Hi, Gwen.

GWEN (Caller): Hi. I was in the Reserves for, like, 12 years, and although I didn't get deployed, I know women who did. And some of them went as far as to get pregnant to keep from going over there. And I just don't feel like women should be in a combat environment. For one thing, mentally, a lot of people over there are reservists, and we don't get that, you know, that combat training like you do when you're in the regular Army.

And I really don't - I agree that they should change it, because I just don't believe women should be involved. I think they should be in, like, support, like, you know, maybe nurses or the paperwork. But the women that I was with, we went in. A lot of people that went into Reserve didn't go in there to go to war. They went in there for education, to travel and just for the, you know, the competition of just, you know, being able to endure like I was like a tomboy. I just want to go in there and see if I could do it. So I don't think women should be in a combat field. I just don't.

KELLY: Rachel, you want to respond to that?

MARTIN: Yeah. It's a very important point, because a lot of people agree with the caller, that the primary motivation for a lot of people, not just women, but to go into the military, hey, it's a stable job and there are education benefits. And I maybe don't see myself being on the frontlines in a combat situation. This isn't what I bargained for. And that speaks to what we're talking about earlier.

One of the major concerns of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission is that by mandating or ruling that any woman could potentially face direct ground combat, you would deter women from signing up, especially for the reservists. And this is an issue dealing with the Guard and the Reserves. This is something that still has to be addressed in the context of this debate.

KELLY: Okay.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I would argue that a lot of reservists feel the same way that the caller did, not just women. Before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Reserves and the National Guard were not called upon as often, and it's been a big change that they've faced these repeat deployments.

And as for women in particular, I think that there is a growing recognition of the changing role of women in combat today, and those who've chosen to enlist after 9/11, I think, have a much larger understanding than people before then about the facts that in today's environment, you probably will go to war in some capacity, because that's this environment.

And in counterinsurgency environments, women have the ability to play not just a regular supporting role, as we have for so long, but special role, because we can show greater cultural sensitivity in engaging with local women in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan where due to tradition or in some interpretations of religious regulations, it isn't appropriate for male troops to engage with local female population. And our female troops can therefore really be a force multiplier by being able to engage in a sensitive manner with the local population.

KELLY: In a different way.

GWEN: I want to ask one thing. I want to ask one more question. When we got ready to go over there, the women had to actually sign their children over to somebody else, give the responsibility - do they still do that? And I'll hang up and listen.

KELLY: All right. Gwen, thanks very much for your call. And we're talking here on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me let you all respond to this issue of children and whether it's more of a woman's burden when she goes overseas. It's a big one.

MARTIN: You know, the military has tried to address this by saying that if you have a family before you are deployed, you have to articulate who the primary caretaker is.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Family care plan.

MARTIN: Family care plan. And I believe, Kayla, you might know better than I that it's men or women, both - if you're the primary caretaker, you have to articulate someone who's taking care of your kids.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Right. So if you are a single parent, you would to designate somebody other than yourself to be the - to care for your children while you're deployed, and that would apply to male or female single parents. And if you are a military member who's married to a civilian, generally, it's not an issue. The other partner in your marriage would take care of the children.

If it's a dual military household, it's challenging just as if a parent was - a single parent, in that if both parents deployed at the same time, you may have to find a family member or somebody else to care for the children.

KELLY: Okay. We've got lots of emails pouring in, including one that's right on this subject. This is from Karen Twinemen(ph). She's writing from East Lansing, Michigan. And she writes: I have not heard anybody mention these women's children. She's written just before this call came in. She writes: It's, of course, totally devastating for a child to lose a father, but it is even more so for babies and very young children to lose their mother. Maybe we should allow women to choose whether they want to be in combat roles, and perhaps women with young children might choose not to put themselves in harm's way.

MARTIN: When women...

KELLY: Here's a couple more...

MARTIN: ...get pregnant, they are - in the military, they are allowed to decide whether or not to stay in. So I believe that a woman who enlists once she already has children should know what she's getting into. And women who get pregnant while they're in the military have to make that decision on their own.

KELLY: There's one more email that's come in. This is a practical note. This is from a listener who identified himself as Jim Bro(ph). And they write: I'm a 20-year Army vet. I served in Task Force Skyhawk as its forward deployed acting S1, among other roles, just after the first Gulf War, maintaining the no fly-zones over both of Saddam's palaces via helicopters. It seems that the biggest problem, personnel-wise, for the talk force commander was the reactions of the wives to having their spouses bunking in the same tents with females. I found that after two weeks of 14 to 16 hour tour of duties, thoughts of sex were the last thing on anyone's mind. So a practical concern there about bunking up on the frontline.

MARTIN: Yeah. And this goes to what Kayla was saying, though, in intimate combat situations where things are really getting intense, it's the mission that's the priority, and it's not what people are thinking of in that particular moment. The real question becomes when you're not forward deployed, when you're at a base, where you have a little more free time on your hands, issues of privacy, perpetual concerns here. How can you bathe? How can you get dressed? These are things that you talk to men and women. They say it gets work out. It just isn't as big of a deal as you would imagine it is.

KELLY: All right. Well, thanks to both of you. We're going to continue tracking this debate, of course, here on NPR. We've been talking with NPR national security correspondent Rachel Martin. She's here in Studio 3A. And you can hear a link to her whole series on the changing roles of women in the military at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Thanks to you, Rachel.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

KELLY: And thanks to you, Kayla.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: We've also been talking with Kayla Williams, who's a former sergeant in the U.S. Army and who wrote a memoir about her service called "Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army."

Well, up next, amid reports of aerial bombings, a no fly-zone has been proposed for Libya. We'll have more on how might be implemented when we come back. I'm Mary Louise Kelly, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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