msnbc | January 26, 2013
>>> i fundamentally believe that our military is more effective when success is based solely on ability and qualifications and on performance. life, as we all know, there are no guarantees of success. not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. but everyone is entitled to a chance.
>> defense secretary leon panetta there along with chairman of the joint chiefs and general martin dempsey lifting the ban on women in combat earlier this week. the decision overturns in 1994 rule that barred women from front line combat roles. i want to bring in retired army colonel jack jacobs and also a medal of honor recipient and he is an msnbc military analyst and an iraq war veteran and an author of "love my rifle more than you," good afternoon, kayla. you are, again, an iraq war vet and served in the army's most well known unit, the 101st airborne division the screaming eagles and you weren't even sure women should serve in combat, why not?
>> i'm not so sure that the men i served with were ready. i heard right before we invaded iraq some of the guys saying you don't belong in the military at all and much less in combat zones and i wasn't sure if they would ever be prepared, but once we were serving for a while and i went in combat foot patrols and realized the only thing that mattered was to help them accomplish the mission i started to think, okay, maybe some day down the road eventually things will change and these young guys as they move up into leadership positions having served alongside women in combat they may be ready for this type of change and here we are today. that change is happening.
>> colonel, here ate thing. women in combat situations have been a reality for a number of years now. more than 150 female troops have died in iraq and afghanistan. why did it take so long for the pentagon to recognize the true role of women in these combat positions?
>> bureaucratic institutions change more slowly than almost anything else in the universe, slower than evolution, and it usually takes a great deal of leadership or some catastrophic event to change them. i think the irony is that the war we've been fighting for the last ten years which as you said, were casualties were the catalyst that changed everything because we decided we weren't going to put women in combat units and we were fighting in environments that there are no front lines and everybody realized that there was a difference. everybody's a target and the ban against women were women if combat all of the time.
>> what are going to be some of the obstacles to put in this plan in place in the military?
>> of course, there are always administrative and logistical decisions that will have to be made and that will take some time. women have to apply to be in combat units, and i think some combat units and most notably, special operations and organizations are probably going to have such a high -- a low selection rate, if not most women would be able to be involved.
>> i think the biggest thing is socialization. people will have to be socialized. i'm reminded in 1976 when we had women first coming into the military academy and they said it won't work. military academies are going down the tubes.
>> and here we are, two decades later when women are actually senior officers in their own children have gone through the military a dead me, we did very well with indeed, as a result. something else that mr. panetta talked about at the press conference, sexual assault in the military remains a major problem for the military and general dempsey at the briefing said that the old policy toward women may have contributed to that problem. take a listen.
>> i believe it's because we've had separate classes of military personnel at some level. it's far more complicated than that, but when you have one part of the population that is designated as warriors and another part that's designated as something else, i think that disparity begins to establish a psychology that in some cases led to that environment. do you agree with that? do you think the restrictions on women in combat may have created a hostile environment of sorts to women ?
>> absolutely agree with general dempsey. i think the combat exclusion policy formalized women 's stat us as second-class citizens within the military and that that created an atmosphere that tolerated sexual harassment . of course, men and women both experience sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military and women do so at much higher rates and i believe that in the long run removing the combat exclusion policy will go a long way toward improving that atmosphere.
>> when you heard of the announcement earlier this week, what was your initial reaction?
>> where's the champagne? i was incredibly excited and i was very close to a number of female veterans and we were texting and calling each other excitedly and it was a tremendous validation and the service of hundreds of thousands of american women in combat including tremendous women like shoshana johnson , the first african-american prisoner of war and tammy duckworth who lost both her legs serving in combat. this truly validates and vindicates everything that all of these brave women have done serving their country in the past decade.
>> the last thing i'll say is that good leaders make good units. it doesn't matter what the policies are. it you're a bad leader it doesn't matter if the policy makes sense and it's not going get it. a good leader will make a good unit and this is no different. a good leader will change things.
>> very quickly, before i let you get out of here, the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. the women permitted to serve in combat roles and what's next for the u.s. military in term of equal rights and civil rights . the biggest issue is what role the military will have in defending the country at a time when our enemies are fragmented everywhere and it requires very well-educated people and i think the next big thing is in my view is universal service . we're not going to be able to defend the country of ten million people and we're an extremely small force and i don't care what the technology. i believe in universal service .
>> a la israel or --
>> oh, yeah. it's going to require some logistical changes and it will require a great deal of leadership, but if you have a situation where you have more people in new york city than you had at pearl harbor and you have an all- volunteer force you're outsourcing our defense for a small number of brave young men and women . that's the next big equal opportunity .
>> that's fascinating. kayla, very quickly. you're a published author now and an outspoken advocate. i've got to ask you, political future. are you thinking of running for something, maybe? perhaps?
>> you know, i'm not sure that the people are that interested in electing a woman with tattoos, but i am both happy to continue serving our country in as many ways as we can.
>> we've learn more about you today.
>> colonel jack jacobs , kayla williams , thanks to both of you.