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Step in the right direction, but not far enough, says female veteran
Navy veteran Lani Hay says women should get credit for the de-facto combat roles they play in today's conflicts.
February 21st, 2012
03:32 PM ET

Step in the right direction, but not far enough, says female veteran

By Stephanie Siek, CNN

(CNN) – Lani Hay was just a kid when she decided on her career goal: to join the Navy, serve her country, and become a flying ace with the Navy's Blue Angels. The child of Vietnamese immigrants, Hay made it all the way to the U.S. Naval Academy before learning that a career as a Blue Angels pilot would be impossible: flying in the troupe was considered a combat role, and as a woman in the mid-1990s, she was barred from participating.

What kept her out was a policy called combat exclusion, which forbid women from being part of units that could be exposed to the dangers of the front line – direct combat, hostile fire, or capture. But the reality in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan is that the front line is not a defined field, and women can be thrown into what is essentially a combat role at any time or place.

Hay, a veteran of intelligence and reconnaissance operations in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo, said it's time for women to get the credit they deserve for serving in what amount to combat conditions.

"To get around the Combat Exclusion Policy as written, women are being 'attached to' and not 'assigned to' battalions, as intelligence officers and communications officers for example, but they are not getting the credit for being in combat arms," said Hay. "Not allowing women the opportunity to 'get credit' for their combat experience and contributions to front-line battalions ultimately denies them choice assignments, which hinders career advancement."

The Department of Defense recognized that earlier this month when they announced that they would be changing those rules to open 14,000 new positions to servicewomen, allowing them to officially serve in positions such as tank mechanics and artillery radar operators. They are still barred from the infantry, special forces, and from performing certain jobs in communications, logistics and intelligence for units smaller than a brigade (which in the Army is composed of 3,000 to 5,000 troops).

Wanted: Women in top military roles

Hay graduated from the Naval Academy in 1997 and went on to become an Air Intelligence Officer, serving in several overseas missions before being released from active duty in 2002.  Then she served three years in the Individual Ready reserves before being honorably discharged. Now she runs Lanmark Technology, Inc., a government contractor which provides administrative and technological services and asymmetric warfare consulting to federal and state agencies. Hay is also a passionate advocate for women’s right to be full members of the armed forces. She doesn't think the new policies go far enough.

"This is progress, but too little too late," said Hay. "The combat exclusion policy needs to be completely lifted to not only establish a level playing field for qualified women to enter all military positions and specialties, but to also reflect the realities and necessities of modern day warfare."

According to Pentagon statistics, 144 women have been killed and 865 have been wounded during combat and noncombat actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 12% of the 2.3 million military personnel serving in missions in the last decade have been women.

The biggest reason to give women full access to combat roles is not just a sense of fairness and equality, Hay said – it's because the success of the mission depends on it. For example, women are recruited especially because of their gender to serve on Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan, which perform searches and intelligence collection that an all-male unit wouldn’t be able to do because of local restrictions on interaction between the sexes.

"The women on the Cultural Support Teams do what their male counterparts are unable to do, such as conducting female searches on burqa-clad women, or engaging the female population to conduct information gathering or build individual, group and community relationships," said Hay. "Although the women assigned to the Cultural Support Teams are training for and conducting the missions with their male counterparts, they are not getting the acknowledgement for being in the Special Forces."

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Filed under: Gender • Who we are • Women
soundoff (359 Responses)
  1. MWR Patron

    ...and they shouldn't get acknowledgement for being in the Special Forces because they're NOT in the Special Forces. If you're whining about inclusion to SF, pick up a ruck and go to SFAS...not the week-long "summer camp" you go through. You can't get your tab by providing "MWR" services, although they're appreciated...sans the drama 😉

    February 27, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Santos

    This is from another story on Lani Hay and not being a pilot (Forbes). Very different explanation : http://www.forbes.com/sites/85broads/2012/02/17/providing-security-for-both-war-and-peace/

    Lani Hay, who along with Stephanie Point, is  among the winners of  Ernst and Young’s 2011  Entrepreneurial  Winning Women program,  always wanted to be a fighter pilot.  But in her last year at the US Naval Academy, where she received a B.S. in mathematics, when they “scrubbed” her lifelong medical records, they discovered Lani  has an allergy to bee stings, so she was disqualified from piloting planes. Instead she became an air intelligence officer, based in Hawaii, analyzing and disseminating  intelligence for squadron air crews. Lani has a special interest in technology. For example, “helped pioneer the transmission of live video feeds from aircraft to intelligence centers on the ground  to speed up the process, compared to relying on  satellites.”

    February 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Santos

    Ms Hay is being disingenuous. When she graduated from the academy, women were already allowed to be fighter pilots. Furthermore, if you read her bio on the company website, she exaggerates (and I am being generous with that comment) what she did as an intelligence officer in the Navy. She has also referred to herself as an "aviator" in other news articles because she flew in P-3s. Finally, she has exaggerated what her company has done for the recent wars.

    Ms Hay has been in many more news stories than most executives in defense firms. She has a publicist in LA who gets her these interviews. She also is a big contributor to the Democratic Party. All this, including the exaggerations, donations, and publicity is designed to increase her company's revenue and feed Ms Hay's ego.It's too bad CNN and other media outlets don't perform better due diligence on their subjects. There are far better and more credible advocates for women in combat than Lani Hay.

    February 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chanel

      @Santos – Completely concur. Has anyone bothered to research the validity of her relationships with clients, employees (where was that retirement matching?), people with whom she served, and non-Hollywood / paid for colleages? Was the three strikes in the below article really because she is a strong woman and men can't keep up? Let's start looking beyond the surface. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/working-after-striking-out-three-times-with-a-hire-firm-assesses-its-culture/2011/11/09/gIQAtxbbIN_story.html . We need real women who treat ALL people with dignity and respect representing our community of women's interests.

      February 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
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