Rescuing the rights of women from bias

April 23, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

WHERE'S THAT darn Martha Burk when she's really needed? Not defending the rights of Emily Hummel, that's for sure.

Burk, the old battle-a - er, uh, - the women's rights activist who sought to reverse the men-only membership of the Augusta National Golf Club by holding a protest demonstration of Lilliputian proportions, might want to focus her attention on Hummel's plight.

Hummel is a junior at Perry Hall High School. She has definite plans about what she wants to do when June 2004 rolls around.

"For the past two or three years, my dream was of being in the Air Force," Hummel said. That dream started after Hummel joined the Civil Air Patrol and learned about pararescue jumpers. But when she called a local recruiter and asked about the requirements, Hummel said she was told she didn't meet the most important one.

She wasn't a guy.

"Apparently Congress doesn't like women participating in pararescue jumping, survival training jobs and combat," Hummel said, asserting that was the gist of what she was told over the phone.

A call to the Pentagon revealed that women are excluded from military special operations jobs. The public relations person there wasn't sure if pararescue jumper was included in special operations.

Army Staff Sgt. Rachel Davis of the U.S. Armed Forces Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida confirmed that pararescue jumpers are, indeed, part of special operations.

What do pararescue jumpers do, and why does Hummel, still a girl of 17, hanker to be one?

"They're trained in first aid and CPR," Hummel said. "During battles, they fly in with helicopters to rescue the wounded. It's the risky stuff. I feel it's a job of honor and a dangerous, at-risk job. I want to be the person that goes in and saves another person's life."

Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't she?

The Army Air Forces first used an airborne pararescue team in 1942 after the Japanese invaded the Philippines. The massive use of helicopters during the Vietnam War led to increased demand for pararescue jumpers.

The male kind.

Hummel said the recruiter told her the pararescue jumper training took 1 1/2 to two years and that "it would be tough."

Tough? That may be understating the matter. Here's a partial list of the training:

1. Distance runs and swims, "very fast and very long," to build up the cardiorespiratory system.

2. Repetitious pull-ups, sit-ups and push-ups for strength and endurance.

3. Calisthenics.

4. Underwater swimming "with and without equipment."

5. "Drownproofing," lifesaving, equipment recovery and mask and snorkel recovery.

Reading this stuff from the 129th Rescue Wing official Web site, you might get the impression that what's listed above is the easy stuff.

"You have to be a very proficient swimmer," Hummel said of pararescue jumper requirements. She confessed she's not one now, but quickly added, "Who's to say I won't be one in three years?"

Who's to say a woman who is a proficient swimmer now and can handle the other rigorous training of a pararescue jumper can't be one? Granted, most women who tried would take the course and fail. But so would most men. What bugs Hummel the most is that she wouldn't even be given the chance to fail. It was presumed she would fail, simply because of her gender.

It's a policy of gender bias the country's women, through their taxes, get the dubious privilege of subsidizing. Burk, instead of trying to Bogart her way into an exclusively male private club, ought to be asking why public tax dollars are paying for such flagrant discrimination against women.

But keeping women out of combat and special ops military jobs has been a long cherished goal of conservatives, who are simply wrong on this one. There is, indeed, precedent for having women in combat roles.

Black abolitionist Harriet Tubman is famous for leading slaves to freedom from Maryland's Eastern Shore to Northern states. Tubman may also be the only woman to have led American troops in combat. During the Civil War, Tubman led black Union troops on several missions behind Confederate lines in South Carolina.

Spunky woman, that Tubman. Who's to say Hummel's not cut from the same cloth?

We'll never know if we don't give her the chance.

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