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Op-Ed: ROTC and Women

The six female ROTC cadets and midshipmen at Stanford are baffled by news that the Women’s Coalition (WoCo), a body that claims to represent a wide swath of women’s student organizations, is actively opposing the return of ROTC to campus. Like the WoCo, our small female cadet contingent at Stanford is made up of strong women who actively and passionately support female advancement, rights and opportunities, especially in the male-dominated institution in which we’ve chosen to serve. We know from history and experience that Stanford women thrive in the military, and we earnestly hope for ROTC’s return to campus so that more women will have the opportunity to benefit from this program.

Personally, the military has done wonders for my growth and development. Far from advocating that I learn to think and act like a man, it has encouraged me to bring my feminine perspective to various challenges, such as how to mentor a struggling cadet or how to engage with female civilians in a hypothetical deployment scenario. I have grown tremendously in confidence, knowing that I can jump from planes, compete on a co-ed marathon team or command a battalion of 90 cadets as easily as my male counterparts.

Far from discriminating against females, the military holds us to the same standards as male soldiers, except where physical capabilities are a serious consideration. We don’t receive special treatment, a fact that continually reinforces my confidence in my capabilities. When I make a mistake in training, I do push-ups. When I am struggling to get to the top of the rope, I receive loud shouts of encouragement rather than discouraging comments like, “Oh well, you’re not expected to do that.” Discriminatory attitudes are simply not tolerated in today’s military.

The females I know and regularly read about have proven themselves up to the military’s challenges. In 2005, Sergeant Leigh Anne Hester received the Silver Star for her heroic actions during an enemy ambush on a supply convoy in Iraq. In 2009, two females were at the top of their class at West Point and were both named Rhodes Scholars. Amongst female Stanford cadets, Aly Gleason ’13 has worked as the Physical Fitness Officer, planning and implementing workouts for her entire Detachment at San Jose State. Captain Diana Clough Benton ’07 received her commission from the President. Lieutenant Ally Ha ’09 still holds the all-time highest physical fitness score for my Battalion. And during my time in Army ROTC, three out of four cadet Battalion Commanders have been women.

The Army also does a great job of accommodating us when necessary, providing women with separate quarters, appropriate grooming standards and free child care assistance, for instance. It takes issues of equal opportunity and sexual assault very seriously. According to The New York Times, “since 2004 the Defense Department has radically changed the way it handles sexual abuse in the military, including encouraging victims to come forward, expanding access to treatment and toughening standards for prosecution.”

The modern U.S. military needs the positive contributions of women, and Stanford has a tremendous opportunity to help train future Officers. Stanford-educated officers can uphold military women’s rights, as we go on to influence soldiers in the units we command. We will make conscientious and ethical decisions wherever we serve. We will influence the current debate on women in combat. My dream job is to work on a Female Engagement Team, a small group of women attached to dismounted patrols, whose mission is to provide community-based humanitarian assistance and engage with local women in a culturally sensitive manner. The military is making tremendous strides toward developing and utilizing women’s unique capabilities. It’s an exciting time for any Stanford graduate to be involved in implementing these developments.

Stanford women also have much to gain from an ROTC program on campus. Not only will more females be able to take advantage of valuable leadership training, but the broader women’s community will also benefit from increased dialogue with future officers on stated issues of concern to the WoCo: transwomen’s rights and sexual assault within the military.

Four years ago, as a shy but curious freshman on the Farm, I decided to try Army ROTC. Countless commutes, classes and training events later, I’ve attained greater confidence, stronger values, closer community, more opportunities and a nobler sense of purpose than I ever imagined possible in the military. As this year’s Army ROTC Battalion Commander, I’ve found that the sky is the limit for female soldiers today in our chosen profession. Now, as I prepare to commission as an Army Second Lieutenant in June, I couldn’t be more satisfied with that initial decision or prouder of the fact that I’ve completed the challenging program. I’ve spoken with a number of talented Stanford women who are also genuinely interested in participating in ROTC but are sadly unable to do so, due to our frequent, long commutes to other campuses.

Please join me in supporting these Stanford women who desire to serve, lead, and impact by voting “yes” on ROTC.

 

Ann Thompson ’11

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