No Exceptions

Brenau Trustee Patty Wolfe, a retired two-star admiral in the U.S. Navy, has a thing or two to say about the recent Pentagon edict that all combat jobs in the military will be open to women. Mainly, she wonders what took so long.

By David Morrison

Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Patricia E. Wolfe, who earned an M.B.A. from Brenau in 1987, often remarks that she sees absolutely no reason that Navy women should be restricted from combat roles, even in battle. Although many military jobs have rigorous and exacting requirements, “male” is not one of them.

“Why should gender limit what I can do?” she asks. “It shouldn’t. I as a female bring a powerful set of skills to the military. We need to look at what capabilities are required for the job, not what my gender is.”

The admiral, who prefers to be called Patty, points out that women today represent more than half of the U.S. population, close to 60 percent of Americans with college educations (now required for many job-specific military positions) and, at schools like Brenau, close to 80 percent of the student population.

Although Patty Wolfe successfully crashed some long-standing barriers to women in the Navy, she concedes career options for her and other accomplished female military colleagues would have been much different had today’s rules applied when she first began.
Although Patty Wolfe successfully crashed some long-standing barriers to women in the Navy, she concedes career options for her and other accomplished female military colleagues would have been much different had today’s rules applied when she first began.

“By saying women can’t serve [in certain roles in the military], we have limited our options for acquiring and retaining great leaders. Women often look at leadership problems and challenges a little differently, bringing a different perspective to decision making. That combination of the two perspectives of a diverse team makes for a better whole.”

Her comments followed U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter’s Dec. 2 announcement that henceforth – with “no exceptions” – all combat jobs in the military will be open to women who can meet standards and physical requirements imposed on the position. It has been a long time coming – various branches of the military have been periodically nibbling away at restrictions since the end of World War II – and, she predicts, its full implementation will take some time.

The long-standing excuse – women aren’t as physically capable as men – was muted in late 2015 when the rigorous and physically demanding U.S. Army Ranger School graduated, alongside 90 male counterparts, its first three female soldiers – one of whom is a 37-year-old major and mother of two children. Another 16 women did not make it through that training cycle, but neither did more than 100 men. Ranger training typically washes out 75 percent of those who begin it.

Patty Wolfe, who entered the Navy through an ROTC program at her undergraduate alma mater, Villanova University, was one of the first females in the Navy allowed to serve aboard ships.

“My mother, who encouraged me to join in the Navy, never thought I’d be wearing combat boots,” she says. “She thought I’d have a desk job. I’m not sure I ever thought I would serve in combat, but I didn’t think I’d ever sit at a desk job, either.” With a career in Navy expeditionary logistics, she got a taste of both. She had three war zone deployments. As a flag officer serving in executive positions she often was in the field with her sailors for combat exercises.

Why is combat service such a big deal for women? People interested in advancing through a military career have to have “warfare” experience to get many leadership roles and get promoted to the higher ranks. It’s an equity issue as well. The military is one of the true leaders in equal pay for equal work. The challenge in the past has been how to allow women to have “equal work” when many of the positions were closed to them by law.

“I’m glad that my successors will be able to serve in the career field that suits them best, with no restrictions if they can make the grade,” she says. “It will make our military stronger in the end.”

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