Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Women in Combat

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Women in Combat

By The Situation Room - January 24, 2013

BLITZER: Let's hope that's true. Let's hope that winding down does happen very quickly. Chris, thanks very much. Ryan Smith served as a U.S. marine infantry man in Iraq. He wrote a tough piece in "the Wall Street Journal" this week, raising questions about women on the frontlines. He's joining us now along with first-term congresswoman, Tulsi Gabbard. She's a captain in the Hawaii National Guard. She served in combat in Iraq as well.

Thanks to both of you for joining us and thanks to both of you for your service to the United States.

I'm going to read a line, Ryan, from what you wrote in "the wall street journal," "Yes, a woman is as capable as a man as pulling a trigger, but the goal of our nation's military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?"

Congresswoman, you served in Iraq. Respond to what Ryan just wrote.

REP. TULSI GABBARD, (D) HAWAII: Well, I think this is really what's going to be the biggest challenge now that this policy change has been announced by the DOD is getting folks to understand in reality what has already been happening. The contributions that women in uniform have been making in these combat settings, the hardships and the austere (ph) conditions they've been living and operating and exceeding the standards on already.

Now, this is really just an official recognition of what these women have been doing in combat for quite some time.

BLITZER: Ryan, why do you have such strong feelings that women can't be -- aren't' capable of participating in these combat units?

RYAN SMITH, FORMER U.S. MARINE: Well, Wolf, you know, I think people have a mistaken view of what's really happening. People are assuming that all future wars are going to resemble the wars, the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But my word (ph), the invasion by Iraq in 2003 it was mechanized push, a conventional war.

We had marines trapped in amphibious assault vehicles for 48 hours. The column wasn't going to stop for anyone. So, if you had to go to the restroom, you had to pea in a bottle inches from the comrade next to you. If you had to go -- if you developed dysentery, you had to pooh in a bag, in an MRE bag, inches from your comrade's face.

Now, introducing women into that environment can be really traumatic and humiliating. And combats already difficult enough. You don't need to add this other layer.

BLITZER: Go ahead, congresswoman.

GABBARD: Well, Ryan, you know, I respect you and thank you for your service. I've been honored to serve with many women who've already operated under these circumstances. This is not something new. Women have been operating shoulder to shoulder with men in these types of settings within Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the things that you've described are things that I and friends of mine and people that I've served with have already experienced.

And I think that's the strength of our military. The strength of our military is because men and women adapt and overcome because we're there to conduct a mission to serve our country. So, all of these other things that are societal norms back home, it doesn't count. You're in combat. All of that stuff goes out the window.

BLITZER: You know, Ryan, we used to hear similar arguments before they allowed African-Americans to serve equally with Caucasians in the United States military before they allowed gay military personnel to serve openly, unit cohesion, things like that. Are you concerned that the arguments you're making now have that historical residence?

SMITH: No. I think that's apples and oranges, Wolf. You know, there's a reason in the U.S. that we have separate restrooms. We have separate shower facilities, separate locker rooms. You know, we even have separate sports teams. It's because it can be traumatizing to be forced to do things that you're uncomfortable with in front of members of the opposite sex.

And, you know, combat is a very hard game and I think people are being (ph) cavalier about this restriction being lifted. You know, combat is a life or death game and if we get this wrong, the loser dies. And, you know, I'm just giving this perspective as -- from a grunt's point of view, a guy that was a sergeant on the ground living in these condition.

And you know, I talked to my comrades and they all feel the same way, that we couldn't imagine having a woman in our midst when we were going through some of these traumatic situations.

BLITZER: Congresswoman.

GABBARD: Well, you know, I can understand where you're coming from Ryan, and I think you'll find the opposite is also true, that when you talk to folks who have already operated under these austere (ph) circumstances in combat, shoulder to shoulder with women, they've recognized the great contributions and unique contributions that having unique skill set at your disposal to conduct the mission.

Again, I really believe that these things fall to the wayside, as you respect your comrades, regardless of what the differences maybe, whether it'd be gender, or race, or religion. Again, it's the strength of our country that allows us all to set that aside and put the mission first.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but Ryan, quickly, do you have a problem with gays serving openly in the U.S. military, in combat roles, the kind of combat roles you're describing?

SMITH: No, Wolf, I don't. You know, everyone keeps their -- on the battlefield, their sexuality to themselves. So, I do not have a problem with gays, you know, serving in the military. Everyone is there to get the mission accomplished.

BLITZER: Ryan Smith, the provocative article in the "Wall Street Journal," thanks very much for coming in. And Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, thanks to you for coming in as well, Iraq war veteran, Iraq war veterans. 

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