Cristian Ponce
Special to Mustang Daily

There is no difference in standards between men and women in combat jobs, according to Cal Poly ROTC faculty and staff. This comes after the military lifted a ban on women performing on the front lines in January.

The change has drawn criticism from those who question women’s ability to perform the same physical tasks as men in combat. But women can and have gone beyond what males do, ROTC instructor Master Sgt. Joshua Nieratko said.

“Push-ups, sit-ups (and a) two mile run is the physical standard,” Nieratko said. “I have seen an 18 to 21 year old male soldier maximize the physical fitness standards in push-ups, to 71. I personally saw a female do 85 pushups, 97 sit-ups and run two miles in 13 minutes.”

The standards for military fitness have been the same for both men and women for quite some time now, but the standards would obviously be higher for certain positions, ROTC instructor Maj. Christine Mediano said.

“Whether it’s a male or a female that’s going to be doing that job, then that’s the standard that needs to be met by any person,” Mediano said. “They have a good system in place right now for women in the military.”

The standards will not drop as a result of the change, journalism sophomore Cadet Heather McBirney said.

“There are definitely women now that could meet those standards, and as long as they continue to do so, I don’t see a reason why it would change,” McBirney said.

The decision to officially lift the ban on women in combat in the military was established in January by Defense Secretary Leon E. Pannetta and will open up numerous front-line jobs for women. In 1948, U.S. Congress mandated women should be limited to 2 percent of the force. Since then, women have expanded to cover 15 percent of the military.

Women have been serving in combat positions in the Middle East for some time now, with 1,000 being wounded in the nation’s two most recent wars, and more than 150 dead. But they were barred from combat positions until this past January.

Even before the lift on the ban on women in combat, Mediano was performing just as well as the men, and even outperforming them, she said. There were no physical difficulties upon entering the military, she said.

“I was outscoring the guys on the physical fitness tests,” Mediano said. “The physical side, I mean, well it was fun, but not too difficult for me; I like that part of it. I was always trying to better my score. I was trying to exceed the standard, not meet it.”

Women have proven to be just as capable on the front lines as men, Nieratko said.

“When I was in Iraq in 2003, I had two or three females in my squad. We were out every day, patrolling the streets of Baghdad,” Nieratko said. “They were either the drivers for the vehicle, or they were controlling the turrets. They were on raids with me. They did everything we did.”

Going into the military as an ROTC student requires physical training three times a week. That was the biggest challenge for McBirney, she said.

“I’m still improving every week,” McBirney said. “I’ve seen females outperform other females and even males. The standards for guys and girls is the same. The biggest difference I would say is upper body strength.”

Women have been integrated for more than 40 years in the San Luis Obispo Fire Department. Women have taken the time to condition their bodies to meet the demands of the job, Fire Marshall Rodger Maggio said.

“When you’re already starting off on a smaller stature and have to carry one of your firefighters who may have become disabled during an incident down a ladder, it becomes much more challenging,” Maggio said. “But then again as they step up to it, they do the conditioning they need to do, they have the job.”

The change raised some questions about sexual assaults in the services. These types of situations already face women more than men in the military, but it is not any different anywhere else, Nieratko said.

“I think the Army does a good job in training and education in taking care of their soldiers,” Nieratko said. “I don’t think it happens any more in the military than it does in the civilian world.”

There has also been more support for programs already in place, Mediano said.

“We have the Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention program and it is one of the goals to support this shift to provide equitable treatment for all of our soldiers,” Mediano said. “That program is already embedded and they’re going to be doing further training with it with the introduction of these new positions.”

In combat, women have the same dangers as men, McBirney said.

“If a male and female are in the same situation or role, I think the dangers are pretty similar,” McBirney said.

More of the population must be prepared for the new policy to come into effect, though. A certain old-school mentality, which has been in place in the public’s minds for quite some time, is the key factor, Nieratko said.

“It has always been an old cliché that the sons go to war, and I don’t know that America is ready to send their daughters to war,” Nieratko said.