For 13 years, Lisa Ramos served in the Navy as a Religious Program Specialist. She served in a support role in Iraq, where front lines were invisible. While she wasn’t directly in combat, she experienced trauma from the line of fire. In part two of our series about women’s shifting roles in combat, WHQR’s Sara Wood speaks with Ramos about the physical realities of lifting the combat ban.
Ramos joined the Navy as soon as she turned 18, something she always wanted to do – serve her country. Something no one in her family had ever done. As a Religious Program Specialist, or RP, she attached to the Fleet Marine Corps. Her main job was protecting the chaplain since he was not allowed a weapon. She also planned funerals and memorial services, and served as a support system for those who were experiencing the trauma of deployment.
“There was a very personable side to being an RP you got to know everybody. You got to see the good in people. RPs are kind of like the big brother or big sister of the battalion, you know? If there’s a memorial service, you were there. They would cry on your shoulder, they would want to talk to you. They just knew they had someone they could talk to.”
She says she’d be lying if she claimed she wasn’t nervous during her deployment. Even though she wasn’t infantry, the combat zone didn’t just exist in one place. It was everywhere, leaving everyone vulnerable to attack – male or female. But if someone asked her if she served in combat, she says she’d say no. She never had to fire her weapon.
“Did I come in contact where there were lots of close calls? Yes. We were mortared and rocketed a little over 400 times that year. The chapel where I worked at was blown up twice. I’ve lost a lot of female friends who were killed in action. So, I served in a combat zone, but I don’t have a combat action ribbon, so I don’t really feel like I can say, “I served in combat,” because there are guys and girls who have and, you know, they’ve lost legs and arms and lives. I didn’t come close to that.”
Ramos says she wasn’t surprised when the Pentagon announced plans to lift the combat ban on women last January. But implementing those plans is a different story. Ramos says she’s not sure how it will work, because there are undeniable differences between men and women.
“It seems like as a nation we have a problem with putting a line between female and male. The combat ban lift, how’s this going to affect the men? What is that doing to their psyche? Are we de-masculinating them? That’s my only concern.”
By May 15, all military branches must submit plans for lifting the ban, which takes effect in 2016. As plans are drafted, Ramos says there are lingering questions: Will combat be a requirement? Will women have to register for the selective service like their male counterparts? Ramos says if it’s going to be considered fair, it should be across the board. And that’s tough when the playing field isn’t level to being with.
“And for me, being in the military, I would not want to be in an all-male infantry unit. Women – not that we’re not good enough, smart enough, capable, deserving enough – it’s just that women are built differently, mentally, physically, emotionally, we’re not the same as men. And men aren’t the same as us, like we couldn’t have a man do something that only a woman could do.”
Even though Ramos says she wouldn’t serve in a combat role, the opportunity shouldn’t be denied to other women. She says with the obvious physical differences, it should be on a case-by-case basis.
“If they want to do it, first of all, and then they can meet the physical demand, and they can get through school and the training to do it, then good on ‘em, let ‘em do it. But I think that’s going to be the exception, not the rule. Most women will not make it through the training because their bodies are not designed for that rigorous activity. I think it’s few and far between.”