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Women In The U.S. Military May Serve In Combat Posts, Pentagon Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now let's get a response to what would otherwise have been the biggest story of this week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all combat positions in the U.S. military will be open to qualified women. We're going to get a response to this from West Point graduate Emily Miller, who previously served with an elite Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. Welcome to the program.

EMILY MILLER: Hi, think you so much for having me.

INSKEEP: So Ash Carter could have made another decision. He could've said some combat positions will be open to women and not others. He could've followed requests by the Marine Corps to exempt them. He didn't. What do you think?

MILLER: I'm still blown away by it. I think it's momentous and historic. And it's the right decision, in my opinion. I think the secretary realizes that it's about putting the right person in the right job, regardless of gender. And really it comes down to access to talent, I think. It makes for a stronger army and a stronger military when you have women in these roles.

INSKEEP: Now, we do say qualified roles, so we can imagine a circumstance, I suppose, where there's relatively few women who qualify for some roles. Is that right?

MILLER: Yeah, I think that's a fair sentiment. I mean, at the end of the day, we want the best of the best for the job. And if there's only, you know, a small percentage of women who can do that job, then so be it.

INSKEEP: It's been pointed out during this years-long debate that women were already serving in combat, they just didn't have the formal designation, necessarily. What was your experience when you were with that Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan, 2011, 2012?

MILLER: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's the biggest misconception is that, you know, women have been in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past 13-plus years. In my experience as a cultural support team member, I worked alongside Rangers on night raids in Afghanistan to capture suspected terrorists. And in that job, we worked shoulder to shoulder with Special Forces, Rangers - we were the first women to do so. And we did everything the men did. So we carried heavy packs, conducted night searches of the homes of suspected terrorist, and yeah, we engaged in direct combat. And so I think it's not a question of if women can keep up with the men and get the job done. We already have, and we already are. And so now I think this decision is, you know, catching up with the reality on the ground.

INSKEEP: And I'm guessing from your title that a woman was essential in that job. Cultural support team - did that mean you were going among a civilian population, it's very conservative, you need women to deal with women. Is that right?

MILLER: Absolutely. We worked directly with Afghan women and children. And we brought a diversified skill set to the team. I mean, quite simply, we gathered intelligence, and we established relationships that otherwise we would never have been able to do due to cultural limitations. And the men I served with recognized that. They recognized the value and how critical it was to the mission.

INSKEEP: We've got just about 30 seconds left, but I'm wondering - you retired from the U.S. Army. Now that combat positions are open to women, do you wish you could get back in?

MILLER: I do. I really do. I think that's the biggest regret, you know, is just - the opportunities moving forward are enormous, and I'm really excited for the next generation of women to take this on.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should remind people that getting in a combat position is part of advancing yourself in the U.S. military. Emily Miller, thank you so much.

MILLER: Oh, absolutely.

INSKEEP: Thank you very much for taking the time.

MILLER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She's an Army veteran who served in the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. She retired as a captain in 2013. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.