Skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

It’s About Time,’ Says San Diego Female Combat Veteran On Pentagon Decision

Historic decision opens approximately 220,000 military combat jobs to women

By Susan Murphy

Natalie Slattery, a Navy veteran who served in ground combat in Iraq in 2008 as a convoy gunner, talks about her experience outside the San Diego Veterans Museum in Balboa Park, Dec. 3, 2015.

Navy veteran Natalie Slattery, who served as a gunner in ground combat in Iraq, was reacting to historic decision that opens approximately 220,000 military combat jobs to women.

Women can now serve in all military combat roles, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday.

The historic decision will open approximately 220,000 jobs to women and clear the way for them to serve in battle-hardened roles, including the Navy SEALs, as long as they can meet the rigorous requirements.

Carter also acknowledged that women have been serving for years on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m very happy that they’ve made it public now for people to know. It’s about time," said San Diego Navy veteran Natalie Slattery, 28, who served in ground combat in Iraq in 2008.

Female pilots flew through combat zones, female medics treated the wounded on the front lines and all-female teams known as “lionesses” accompanied troops in house-to-house searches.

Slattery was a convoy gunner — a position that wasn’t typically open to women.

“I was that person you see on top of all the trucks and in all the gear,” Slattery said. “Most people didn’t know I was a female because you’re completely covered in flak jackets and Kevlar."

She said she was chosen for the job because of her accurate shooting skills, which she credits to hunting from childhood on her family’s dairy farm in Wisconsin.

“My dad taught me from a very young age how to handle a deer rifle, shotgun,” Slattery said. “It was easy to incorporate that when I joined the military."

Her unit, a Navy Seabees Mobile Construction Battalion, hit IEDs three different times. Slattery said she suffered a back injury, but it didn’t stop her from completing the mission.

“I’ve been told since I came back that it never happened because women weren’t in combat. My family was told the same thing — not to worry because I was a woman. Why would I see any action?”

She said she had to work hard to earn the respect of some of her male counterparts.

“I know there were males that were very uncomfortable, but I had always pulled my own weight in our command,” Slattery said. “There were people who I know wanted me to fail but to me that was just motivation to prove them wrong.”

Slattery, who joined the military straight out of high school and served in the Navy for six years, said women entering combat roles will likely face the same challenges she did, but she’s happy they’ll finally be given opportunities for promotions and to ascend to the highest leadership roles.

“Anyone can do a job. It doesn’t depend on gender. It depends on the person,” she said.

For Slattery, a student at San Diego State University studying kinesiology, her goal is set on becoming a physical therapist.

The Pentagon’s decision follows a yearlong Marine Corps study that analyzed gender integration and its effect on combat readiness. Nearly 100 women and 300 men volunteered for the experiment that took place at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Twentynine Palms and Camp Pendleton.

The idea of letting women into combat roles gained momentum during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Defense Department, more than 300,000 women have served in those wars and 9,000 female troops have earned Combat Action Badges. More than 800 female service members have been wounded and at least 161 have died in combat- and noncombat-related incidents.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.