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Opinions mixed for Fort Drum soldiers and area veterans as women allowed into combat roles

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FORT DRUM — The announcement Thursday that women will be allowed in combat roles was met by soldiers and north country veterans with mixed reactions.

The move will allow women to serve in thousands of roles across the military that previously had been unattainable. The decision’s effect on Fort Drum will not be known for several months, as the military service branches have until May 15 to submit plans on the changed guidelines to the secretary of defense.

However, with three combat brigades based here, it could be inferred that the post will see large changes regarding women in combat roles.

Spc. Kelley E. Rizzo, sitting with fellow soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team on Thursday at Tico’s Mex Mex Grill, Great Bend, called the decision a great one, and said she knew a lot of other female soldiers who are interested in combat roles.

Spc. Rizzo said the main issue would be overcoming negative stereotypes. “Women can do most of the same things men do,” she said. “It should be a benefit instead of a detriment.”

She said she was encouraged by examples of female soldiers who have helped Army units during deployments through interactions with local Afghan women. The only enlisted woman in her platoon, Spc. Rizzo said she had not had any issues working with her male counterparts.

At the Golden Unicorn Diner and Motel, Felts Mills, Pfc. Eugene P. Walker, who was eating lunch with fellow 10th Combat Aviation Brigade member Spc. Michael G. Holenchick, said the change was not going to negatively affect him.

“They send women out on patrols, convoys,” Pfc. Walker said. “If their convoy is attacked, they’ll be returning fire anyway.”

Spc. Holenchick argued that a male soldier’s chivalry would produce an emotional attachment to female comrades that could affect their work.

“A man always has to feel protective in that kind of situation,” Spc. Holenchick said. Pfc. Walker countered that most soldiers have an emotional attachment to fellow soldiers regardless of gender.

“If I got shot and you didn’t feel a particular way ... ,” Pfc. Walker said, stopping his sentence to laugh.

The change in roles created a spirited debate among counselors and patients at the Veterans Outreach Center of the Mental Health Association in Jefferson County, based in the Marcy Building in Watertown.

Richard K. Allan, whose 19-year Army career included service in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, said he was concerned about women physically being able to perform combat duties, and suggested the military should consider job-specific physical fitness requirements instead of overall requirements based on gender.

Robert E. Bowen, a counseling intern at the center and a retired Army tanker, said he would support the change if women could prove their ability.

“We’re fighting for our brother next to us,” Mr. Bowen said. “If it’s a sister, we’ll fight too.”

Melissa R. Amos, who served for 16 years in medic, supply and maintenance roles with the Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve, said she would have done medic work in combat units if given the opportunity.

Ms. Amos, a military, family and veteran advocate at the center, said that in her medic work, she routinely would carry an 80-pound medical bag in addition to her regular pack.

Ms. Amos said other nations, such as Israel and Germany, have had women in combat roles for years.

“If other nations can do it, why are we decades behind?” she said.

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