Her photograph is stunning: a beautiful young woman, full of life, beaming through the robust fulness of her achievement as one of the highest ranking members of the Class of 2005 at West Point. A graduate of Oxen Hill High School, she could have been one of many students of my acquaintance, save for the saber and parade hat and full dress uniform. All week I’ve been thinking about Lt. Emily J.T. Perez who died in Iraq three weeks ago. Among her many firsts, she was the first Black and Hispanic female command sergeant at West Point. Tragically, she now is also the first female West Point graduate to die in Iraq, the victim of one of those devastating roadside bombs. She was leading her platoon while patrolling a road near Najaf. The bomb destroyed her Humvee.
Several blogs ago I alluded to Katie Couric “wearing her own shoes” as one commentator put it, rather than just “filling a man’s shoes.” Emily Perez and the other women serving in Iraq are not just filling men’s shoes, either — the combat boots they wear are truly of their own style. While, technically, women are still not supposed to be “in combat,” in this new kind of war the combat is everywhere and women are on the front lines. Women in combat today are dying with those boots on, a sad but increasingly necessary symbol of equality.
Another haunting image is the collage of photographs that the New York Times published last Sunday of the 65 American military women who have died thus far in the Iraq war. While this is a small fraction of the more than 2700 troops killed in the war thus far, the increased attention being paid to the numbers of women killed in combat-related actions is drawing renewed attention to the dangers of this war and the role of women in the military.
These young women, and the thousands of men who have died or suffered grievous wounds, are sacrificing themselves for our country, and for the ideals of freedom and democracy that are the rationale for this war. While many of us might question the wisdom of this war, the political motivations, the poor judgments that have mounted, we cannot possibly question the patriotism, dignity and heroism of the troops.
One comment in the New York Times article struck me as perverse. A professor at Northwestern University is quoted as saying that the general public does not seem overly concerned with the deaths of young women in war. “They would rather have someone else’s daughter die than their son,” he said. I find that unbelievably callous. Most people I know would prefer to see no one at war. But under the circumstances, most are also deeply moved and grateful that some young men — and young women — are willing to make this ultimate sacrifice.
Perhaps the best way we can honor Lt. Perez and all of her brother and sister soldiers who have died in this war is to redouble our effort to find a way back to peace.
What do you think about women in combat? Please send me your comments — click on the envelope below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I will include your comments in one of my next blogs.