Canada ahead of US in allowing women in combat

Updated 10 February 2013
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Canada ahead of US in allowing women in combat

TORONTO: On May 17, 2006, in a firefight with Afghan Taleban insurgents, Canadian forces lost an artillery officer hit by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade. She was Capt. Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian woman to be killed in action since her country’s 1989 decision to admit women soldiers into combat.
For a nation already divided about participating in the American-led Afghanistan war, Goddard’s death was a particular shock, and two more Canadian women have since died in combat. But Canada remains in the small group of countries — including Israel, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and now the US — that have opened their fighting ranks to female soldiers.
Canada’s change didn’t come easily. “There was definitely heated discussion among my peers whether we should be there” in combat, said Lt. Col. Jennie Carignan, who enlisted in 1986.
But the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms made it inevitable, and the armed forces began a series of trials. However, the initial result was not encouraging for champions of full equality. The trials indicated that almost half the male rank and file viewed their female counterparts as “women first, tradespersons second, and soldiers never.” It was feared unit cohesion, esprit de corps and morale would suffer.  
Final word came in a 1989 ruling by Canada’s Human Rights Commission ordering women to be admitted to all combat roles except aboard submarines. The submarine ban fell three years later.
Chief Warrant Officer A.P. Stapleford, who had enlisted in the Canadian infantry in 1975, said some initially questioned whether women were up to the task physically and whether the men would feel obliged to protect them.
“It was a shock at first and we overreacted at first, but we learned to adapt and work with them. They were going to be there anyway so we just got over it and it wasn’t an issue to integrate them into units.” Nowadays, he said, soldiers take the presence of female combatants in stride.
The military says 2.4 percent of personnel in combat units are women — 145 officers and 209 enlisted soldiers . Overall, 9,348 women serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, 14 percent of all personnel.
Officers today speak of having adapted swiftly to women in combat, and officers and enlisted soldiers, male and female, whom The Associated Press sought out for interviews, insist they have no problem with the change.
But some in the civilian sector disagree with the principle.
While supportive of women serving in the military, columnist Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail, a Toronto daily, wrote following the US decision of Jan. 24: “The sheer physical demands of war (to say nothing of group cohesion, and all the rest) mean that fighting capability and performance are simply not compatible with gender equality.”
Gwen Landolt of REAL Women Canada, a socially conservative advocacy group, said: “It was a politically correct decision. The problem is women are just not equal physically, they can’t perform in combat to the same degree as men can...”
Landolt supports women serving as noncombatants and was the first female lawyer to serve in the legal department of the Canadian Forces. She said REAL Women waged a lonely battle to head off the 1989 decision.
“If the tribunal hadn’t come down in 1989 and smacked them so hard, maybe the military would be more objective,” she said in an interview.
“Feminism was at its height in Canada in 1989 and (feminist organizations) would hit back fast and furiously when we raised objections.”
Both she and Wente also cite issues of pregnancy, motherhood and sex, as well as male instincts of protectiveness of women.
Carignan, the veteran from 1986, said the first 10 years of integration were difficult, but after a review of anti-harassment policies and a revamp of the military’s code of ethics in the 1990s, things improved significantly.
“When I first entered into the forces I heard, ‘women aren’t strong enough,’ so I just hit the gym harder,” said Carignan. “Then later I heard, ‘I’ve never had a woman as a troop commander’ but OK, so now let’s move on. And we did move on, never looking back.”
In 2003, she became the first woman to hold deputy command of a combat unit, and was Task Force Kandahar’s senior combat engineer in 2009.
Capt. Ashley Collette, during her 10-month deployment in Afghanistan, led a 50-strong all-male infantry unit providing security to villagers. She had close calls with roadside bombs, and two of her soldiers were injured. Now 28, she received the Medal of Military Valour, Canada’s third-highest military honor, for her leadership in the Panjwaii district near Kandahar — the district where Nichola Goddard died.
“Afghanistan was challenging, no doubt,” she said. “The heat and desert conditions are intense, taking casualties is intense.
“But it’s no more intense for me than it is for a male soldier; we’re both in it for the same reasons, to do the same job, and that’s the way my fellow soldiers saw it too. My leadership was never questioned.”
A male corporal, Kyle Schmidinger, said his unit couldn’t have asked for a better commander than Collette.
“She did what any leader would do. She fought for us and she took care of us. There was never any doubt she couldn’t do the job as well as a male commander,” Schmidinger said.
The soldiers said having women on hand also proved helpful in dealing with Afghanistan’s strict code of gender segregation because they could conduct searches of women and talk to the wives of Afghan chiefs.
Carignan said while it took time and some struggle for women to get where they are today, “now, the men who initially were opposed are defending female combatants because they know in the end, it’s all just about how you do your job.”


Army splits with West Point grad who touted communist revolt

In this May 2016 photo provided by Spenser Rapone, Rapone displays a shirt bearing the image of socialist icon Che Guevara under his uniform, after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. (AP)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Army splits with West Point grad who touted communist revolt

  • “I would encourage all soldiers who have a conscience to lay down their arms and join me and so many others who are willing to stop serving the agents of imperialism and join us in a revolutionary movement”
  • Less than a year after Rapone’s images drew a firestorm of vitriol and even death threats, the second lieutenant who became known as the “commie cadet” is officially out of the US Army with an other-than-honorable discharge

WATERTOWN, New York: The images Spenser Rapone posted on Twitter from his West Point graduation were intentionally shocking: In one, the cadet opens his dress uniform to expose a T-shirt with a blood-red image of socialist icon Che Guevara. In another, he raises his fist and flips his cap to reveal the message: “Communism will win.”
Less than a year after Rapone’s images drew a firestorm of vitriol and even death threats, the second lieutenant who became known as the “commie cadet” is officially out of the US Army with an other-than-honorable discharge.
Top brass at Fort Drum accepted Rapone’s resignation Monday after an earlier reprimand for “conduct unbecoming of an officer.” Rapone said an investigation found he went online to advocate for a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers. Officially, the Army said in a statement only that it conducted a full investigation and “appropriate action was taken.”
An unrepentant Rapone summed up the fallout in yet another tweet Monday that showed him extending a middle finger at a sign at the entrance to Fort Drum, accompanied by the words, “One final salute.”
“I consider myself a revolutionary socialist,” the 26-year-old Rapone told The Associated Press. “I would encourage all soldiers who have a conscience to lay down their arms and join me and so many others who are willing to stop serving the agents of imperialism and join us in a revolutionary movement.”
Rapone said his journey to communism grew out of his experiences as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan before he was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy. And those views only hardened during his studies of history as one of the academy’s “Long Gray Line.”
He explained that he took the offending selfies at his May 2016 West Point graduation ceremony and kept them to himself until last September, when he tweeted them in solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was taking heat for kneeling for the national anthem to raise awareness of racism. Many other military personnel also tweeted in favor of Kaepernick, although most were supporting free speech, not communism.
West Point released a statement after Rapone posted the photos, saying his actions “in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army.” And U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, called on the secretary of the Army to remove Rapone from the officer ranks.
“While in uniform, Spenser Rapone advocated for communism and political violence, and expressed support and sympathy for enemies of the United States,” Rubio said Monday, adding “I’m glad to see that they have given him an ‘other-than-honorable’ discharge.”
One of six children growing up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Rapone said he applied to West Point, which is tuition-free, because he couldn’t afford college. He was nominated out of high school by then-U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire in 2010.
“He was an honors student, an athlete, a model citizen who volunteered in the community,” recalled Altmire, a Democrat. “During the interview, he expressed patriotism and looked just like a top-notch candidate. There were no red flags of any kind.”
But he wasn’t accepted to West Point, so Rapone enlisted in the Army. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was assigned as an assistant machine gunner in Khost Province.
“We were bullies in one of the poorest countries on Earth,” Rapone said. “We have one of the most technologically advanced militaries of all time and all we were doing is brutalizing and invading and terrorizing a population that had nothing to do with what the United States claimed was a threat.”
Toward the end of his deployment, he learned West Point fulfills a certain quota of enlisted soldiers every year. Despite his growing disillusionment about the military, he applied and got in.
“I was still idealistic,” he said.” I figured maybe I could change things from inside.”
In addition to classic socialist theorists such as Karl Marx, Rapone says he found inspiration in the writings of Stan Goff, a retired Special Forces master sergeant who became a socialist anti-war activist.
Even while still a cadet, Rapone’s online postings alarmed a West Point history professor, who wrote Rapone up, saying his online postings were “red flags that cannot be ignored.” Rapone was disciplined but still allowed to graduate.
Greg Rinckey, an attorney specializing in military law, said it’s rare for an officer out of West Point to receive an other-than-honorable discharge. He added that it’s possible the military academy could seek repayment of the cost of Rapone’s education because he didn’t serve the full five-year service obligation required upon graduation.
“I knew there could be repercussions,” said Rapone, who is scheduled to speak at a socialism conference in Chicago next month. “Of course my military career is dead in the water. On the other hand, many people reached out and showed me support. There are a lot of veterans both active duty and not that feel like I do.”