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Women Soldiers Reflect On New Army Career Options

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - The Pentagon's decision to allow women in combat roles has some female soldiers rethinking their career trajectories.

Army Spc. Heidi Olson received a Purple Heart last year for shrapnel injuries she got during a foot patrol in Afghanistan. She feels she's earned the right to call herself a combat medic.

"Originally as a female, I wasn't allowed to be titled as a combat medic," Olson says. "It was a 'health care specialist.'"

Now the 24-year-old Springfield, Oregon native says she's debating with herself and with her fiancée whether to try out for Special Forces, provided the commando unit opens to women.

"I joined to make history," she says. "That was why I joined the Army, to help break down some of these barriers that have been there."

Olson spoke about her combat experiences during a roundtable of mostly female soldiers organized at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  The U.S. Army's biggest West Coast post convened the panel to comment on the historic changes.

Army Major Sheila Medeiros says the policy change validates the good job women are already doing under fire.

"I believe you won't see a rush of women wanting to join these [combat] roles, but you'll see a number, a few."

The 43-year-old Medeiros says had the policy been changed ten years ago, she might have applied to Army Ranger school.

Another point stressed repeatedly by soldiers of both sexes was that they want everyone to be held to the same standards. Staff Sergeant Jennifer Zumwalt said she fears there would be a loss of trust within combat units if Army brass set different thresholds for men and women.

On the Web:

Women in Service Review Memorandum (Department of Defense)

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.