tv [untitled] May 13, 2012 5:00pm-5:30pm EDT
they probably scared the hell out of them, but none of them were killed. but it was a good practice. the only other exciting thing that happened during the war, the only way we had physical training on the ship was we had a couple of lifecycle bicycling type of gear back in the salvage hold. i'd be down will in the afternoons riding my bike and side have a sound powered phone next to the bicycle and they would call me up, captain to the bridge or call over the p.a. system, captain to the bridge. i ran up there, i was in my pt gear which was t-shirt and shorts, and this helicopter, three ships came over the horizon, they were soviet vessels. and back in 1991, we were suddenly friendly with the soviets. they were no longer our enemy because the cold war had expired two years before. so they were our allies. and so we were kind of watching them, three of them.
and they deployed a helicopter to check us out. so this helicopter is hovering over the right side of the ship in the forward part of the bow. so i'm looking, i had my binoculars and i could see the guy with his binoculars. and he's looking at me and i wave. so suddenly the officer on the deck, the person actually driving the ship, says, captain, they want to talk to you. so i get on the ship to ship radio and i said this is lieutenant commander iskra, who are you? >> and they were like, um, commanding officer? >> yes. um. okay. well, we're just on our way to the suez canal and we just thought we would, you know, just make sure that everything was fine. yes, everything's fine.
but it was really hilarious because you could tell they were really surprised about having a woman's voice over the intercom there. and i was the only woman on board, so that would have been that. so then i'm waving again and they're kind looking at me and then they went off. happy journeys. so we eventually -- of course the war eventually stopped as far as the fighting was concerned. and we got back to little creek in april 1991 to a hero's welcome. so that was pretty fun, too. if you have any question, i'd be more than happy to answer them. >> thanks. our fourth speaker, gail shillingford, is not here. if she comes in while we're all still here, well be eager to hear what she has to say. but she's since not, i want to sum up a couple of the themes and then ask some questions of the panelists.
and then we'll open the floor for questions from you. some of the key themes of the women's service in the gulf war have already come up. the deployment of one or both members of a joint military family, by that i mean where both partners are in the military, particularly when there are children that have to be taken care of. exposures that men and women veterans experienced and the aftermath of those as julianna has mentioned. the surprise of women in commanding officer billets and jobs. and although maybe a lot of you missed it, there was one whale of a lot of publicity about women this, women that, and sometimes it rubbed the guys that we were serving with the wrong way.
you know, hey, i'm deploying, i'm leaving my family, too, how come she's getting all the radio and tv time. and also we were involved with things that had nothing to do with the fact that we were women. darlene mentioned the fact of talking to the plane flying above. i was up in london coordinating telecommunications at the war room, we did all the telecommunications stuff from there, and one of the things we learned early on is we had a much easier time fully communicating with ships from australia, canada, great britain and other countries that were our allies. war, but we couldn't talk to our own air force very well. it's a problem that has been worked on a lot since then and has been solved, but there were funny things that you would notice during that gulf war. at any rate, i would like to start off asking the panelists if they were aware much of the publicity about women that constant nicely news and i saw it because in the war room, we always had to have cnn on. so we saw the u.s. version of
cnn even though we were in london. and all the time they would be coming on these stories about mothers deploying or women over there doing this or that. and the guys would turn around and tease us about how come it's always you on the television. but i was wondering if any of you were aware of some of the publicity at the time, were aware that this was the first major deployment of nonnurse corps women to a war zone and your experience of that. does anybody want to bite on that? >> i could. >> okay. >> during the gulf war when i was home at time, i would sit there and record for my girls, i always had stacks of vcr tapes where i recorded the wars. but did during that whole time, i didn't really see that much focus on women and the war during the gulf war.
>> i noticed that before i deployed, that during the build up, during desert shield, there was an awful lot of information about women deploying and as you said, the moms with babes in their arms crying and husbands saying good-bye. so i do believe that, yes, i was aware of that. >> deploying out of germany, we had no idea. we knew -- we were aware of course that women hasn't been key employed in such big numbers to a war time situation, but in germany, there really wasn't the attention. and in fact when we returned back, there was actually anti-american sentiments in germany, so we didn't have any concept about how much -- how important that was in the u.s. at all as far as press was concerned. >> thanks. another big shock, and it this was sort of in the aftermath of the war, several things that happened in the aftermath of the
war. the first was it became apparent that just because the aircraft you were on or the ship you were on was not a combatant, or the fact that you were behind the front lines did not mean you were free of danger. within the first two or three years after, congress changed the law governing what women in the military could do. first in the 1991 authorization act, they lifted the prohibition against women serving on board combat aircraft. which was always kind of a strange demarcation any way. for instance, the awax planes that did all the electronic targeting and the direction of the planes in the air were not considered combatants at the time. although if you splashed one of those, the other ones didn't catch somebody directing them. but the fighter planes, attack planes, some of the helicopters, most of the patrol planes were off limits to women. so those were all opened by congress in 1991. and as a result of the 1994 authorizations bill, all the
combatant ships in the navy were opened except for certain things like submarines or some of the very small ships where privacy was an issue, where you couldn't really have a mixed crew aboard. and most of the navy ships now are open to women, but a few aren't. the attack submarines and a couple of the very small riverine boats. but gradually over the past 20 year, we've opened just about all the navy combatants to women. also the army and the marine corps did a big review of what they call their combat support jobs which aren't combatants per se, but they assume the combatant troops. those were open to women in 1994.
at the same time as the navy ships were. the services had done a major review and opened many, many thousands of billets which got women much, much closer to the front lines and those same rules that it apply to combat support are still the rules governing women service in iraq and afghanistan. the stuff that came out of the gulf war. they're inadequate for the job, but we still haven't figured out quite how to rectify that. it's a long standing problem. that was on the actors side. the other government agency that had a big shock in the aftermath of the gulf war were department of veterans affairs. there were certain women eligible to be treated medically or otherwise at v.a. to get the gi bill, but most of the ones, were from world war ii or korea so v.a. was used to a very small
population of women. most of them well past their child bearing years. and many of whom despite the fact they were eligible simply chose not to do it. so v.a. health care at that time was very male oriented. and from the time that the persian gulf war ended until continuing right now today, there has been a major evolutionary change, we're still not there yet. but v.a. has become more and more woman-friendly. and i know you work at v.a. and you may or not get v.a. care, but i was wondering if anybody on the panel would like to discuss their experiences with v.a. and how particularly over the years as v.a. was trying to get used to women as their health care patients. >> when i retired from the military in 2000, it took me
over ten years to apply for the v.a. benefits and services. with their v.a., i gave them a copy of my records. i even tabbed out all my service connected issues. and i presented it. and they said i was zero across the board. and i worked at v.a. and i said, oh, no you will make me an appointment and i want to see a couple doctors. and my first medical appointment was here in washington. and when i went in there, he goes, what are you doing here? he goes you're service connected. i said then why would they send me. so all of a sudden i went there 0% for 100% service connected disabled. and that kind of really -- and then i can really understand how
these veterans, they would apply and if they are told, no, you're not -- you're zero across the board when in fact it's not true and they give up, and this is why we have especially for, you know, like women, they don't self-identify as veterans. so now we're trying to push, yes, you're a veteran and especially like for american indians, a lot of them don't see females as vets. if you haven't served in actual war, you're not considered a veteran. and that's so wrong. and so now we're trying to push that. and also with vets and that, if you try to apply for your benefits, don't give up the first time around. make us do our job to take care of you. keep going, keep pushing. because they did that to me and i said -- and i knew it wasn't true. and i kept fighting for it, pushing and pushing. and it that's one issue that nobody would even like vouch for
me because it didn't happen while i was in a military. and i actually had to get a medical doctor that did surgery. and i said i just need you to prove, just say due to my surgery, the size, everything, that i did not have this while i was in the military. and the doctor came back and said you had this problem two years prior to getting out of the military. and, yeah, it took me over ten years to actually apply, and then another couple years to get the services that was due. thank you. >> so with regards to women's only clinics, when i first accessed the v.a. hospital in seattle, there was a small women's clinic, but they had no separate women's access. for example if a woman had military sexual trauma, she was forced to walk through all of the men and go to the clinic appointments and the level of privacy was really actually low.
so it's evolved how into v.a. hospitals having their own separate entrance, really nice women's clinics were women have their own primary care providers within the clinics. and in fact women can receive prenatal care at these clinics a lot of times now. so there has been a huge evolution since we were deployed. >> anything else any of you would like to mention before i open the floor for questions? >> i do have something that's a little bit different. i was also a dual military -- in a dual military marriage. and my ex-husband was a s.e.a.l. officer. and of course he had deployed many times prior to will this. i had deployed twice before. but this third deployment during the gulf war was really different for him. because he was home during the conflict. he wasn't deployed. and so as soon as i got under
way for the gulf, i didn't have time to call him and of course we have no way of really contacting him before. so he sees my picture all over the place, i told you that records. but he finally understood what it was like to have a spouse at home while the member was deployed to, you know, a conflict. and that was a real eye opener for him. >> now we'd like to take questions from the floor. the gentleman in the back has a microphone if you would like to ask a question. if you have a question, he'll bring the microphone over to you. somebody must or i'll have to ask you questions. bob. >> i have a question. looking back to when you served 20 years ago, what do you think about the women of today who are serving and what thoughts come
to mind when you see what they've gone through in the last ten years? >> i'm really, really proud of them. i think they have really -- as lory was saying, there's always this segment of the population that wants to poo-poo women's capabilities. it's like we have to keep proving ourselves over and over again. and even now with all the evidence that shows that women are doing the jobs that need to be done in the war zone, they're fighting in the war zone, they're protecting themselves and their charges in the war zone, we still have this combat exclusion policy that doesn't make sense for today's military. so i'm very, very proud of them and all that they've accomplished in the last few years. >> one of the things i experienced when i came back, my experience, although i was there with a man next to me, my experience was devalued because i was a woman.
so although i'd had the same experience, wasn't as valuable in people's minds. and i think that that's really improved this time around. i think that women's contributions are now acknowledged a lot more and i'm proud of all the progress, too, but i'm pleased to see the fact that their contribution is acknowledged more so than it was. >> during my experience in the military, i found that even though like in 1980 all the way up to almost 2000, i kind of had to act like a man, think like a man and then be a female at the same time. so it's just like i found myself where i had to put myself in a position where i can't be walked or pushed around. but with the women today, there's a reason why females join the military. it's to protect our country. and then when you have people out there that don't want women fighting along the other soldier, it's like -- it's ask us.
ask us how we feel about it and how we want to -- if we want to fight with help because we joined the military just like the males for one reason, it's to protect our country. >> question here. yes. >> i'm curious to know in terms of personnel, do you have any information on quotas, either for or against women? >> right now today? i can address that unless somebody on the panel -- it depends. do you mean quotas saying you have to have x number of women or quotas that are targets that are a floor or ceiling quotas? >> i mean both. that you can't put in any more than this number. >> the air force -- for the air force, about 99% of all jobs are open to women.
so they at least on paper don't have any quotas. there's no -- and about 19% of the air force is currently female. navy is driven by how many berths aboard a ship can have female sailors. because of the way the officers are aboard ship, there's no limitation. because or very few limitations because of the way sleeping quarters are. there are only two to four to a room. so the navy has been stuck at about 14% to 15% women. and it's largely driven not so much because various occupations are closed to them, but because the way the ships are configured only x percent of a crew can be male or female. so the quotas work both ways in a sense. typically a crew might be about
80% male and about 20% female. but it varies from ship to ship. army and marine corps is a little bit different. large numbers of the jobs, the billets both the units and occupations are closed to women because they're infantry, armor, special forces or short range field artillery. and because so many jobs are closed to women, it drives the number of women below say what the air force could take. on the other hand, particularly the army, since the gulf war began could recruit more women if more women particularly on the enlisted side wanted to enlisted in army. so they have not run out of room for women, but fewer women have actually enlisted in the army. percentage wide, the army is about 13% are now women. officers, it's closer to 16%.
so there are limitations on the number that can be allowed initial entry, but it's not a formal quota. also, over the past couple of years, the service academy, west point, naval academy and air force academy, they used to artificially, i think, this is me speaking, lower the -- keep a lid on the number of women going through the academies. it was sort of not officially, but it was sort of closed off at about 14%. but in the past three or four years, led by the naval academy, they've lifted those sort of informal quotas and they tied them to, well, 14% of the force is enlisted, so 14% of the officers coming through here should be women. they stopped doing that and gradually the percentages of
women at the service academies is raising pretty him all about 20% now. so it's a complex answer. i'm not aware of any formal company as unless it's a specific occupation where most of the jobs are in units. some that come to mind are some of the chemical warfare stuff. so there are some women, but there can't be that many because most of the jobs are in units that didn't allow women. >> do you think the current limitations on what women are allowed to do in any branch of the service are reasonable? >> anybody want to take that? >> of course i don't think they're reasonable. i've always been an advocate for women being able to do the
things that they are capable of doing and qualified to do and it shouldn't be based on gender. there will should be job related requirements. many of the requirements in the past have just been requirements to keep people out rather than requirements that actually represented what the job entailed. so obviously not all women could be infantry men and carry a pack for miles and miles, but i believe that there are women who can and it shouldn't be based just on that one aspect of gender. it should be based on when or not they're capable of doing the job. >> anybody else? because i would tend to agree -- i do agree with darlene 100%. and a lot of people don't realize how much during this war women have been doing things that are technically off-limits
to them. for those of you who don't know what's currently closed to women are units and occupations whose primary mission is ground warfare. so the infantry and the units of occupation of the units that are infantry units, army, et cetera, also special forces closed to women in all services. but during this war, particularly afghanistan, victim have been traveling with our special forces out on the field, on their own, because they have to be there. special forces have lots of missions. one of them is gathering local intelligence. and when more than half the population is female and they're not allowed to talk to our men, we can't gather intelligence as effectively without those women traveling with special forces. women have always gone with
infantry units, the marine corps's female engagement team, they travel with small companies of infantry. particularly when doing things like house rates where there are likely to be women and children present. among other things, the women can search the local women, but also it tends to keep the lid on violence when women are there. so women have been doing for ten years how all kinds of things that are technically off limits to them. there was a big change that came about in february which did away with what used to be called the call location rule. you could be a medic, but you couldn't be a medic if you are a woman with a small infantry squad. a real technical distinction they make. so that kind prohibition is gone. but the basic ones, nothing has changed. but there is the potential to open more probably in mid november.
>> this question is for julie or anybody else on the panel in particular. regarding gulf war illness post war, in particular with women, you kind of touched on it earlier. can you talk about the process, how it was for you and how you think that relates to how women are treated today after iraq and afghanistan? >> a lot of people started getting sick actually when we were still in saudi arabia. there was and on set of rashes and headaches. that's where things primarily began. and as everybody returned home, there were change reports of continued rashes and nausea and headaches and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and digestive issues and it continued on.
and even ten years after the war, there weren't a lot of concrete diagnoses. they knew there were three different groups of clusters of ill defined illnesses that they now refer to as gulf war illness, but specific diagnoses of diseases hadn't taken place yet. it's only in the last ten years that that has happen. so we still have a lot of progress to make. >> anyone else want to make a contribution to that? >> i got here a little late, but i wonder, does anybody know any statistics about how many women are serving in the gulf? >> i have that in front of me. >> and how that compares to
afghanistan conflict or iraq. >> i don't have any of today's statistics. there were 54,000 women deployed for the gulf war. and of that number there were 13,000 women exposed to the chemicals. that's the break down that i have. >> also 15 women killed during the persian gulf war and two who were prisoners of war. the current wars have gone on for more than ten years now as opposed to nowhere mere that length for the persian gulf war. both parts of it with the deployment and the war itself were over in less than -- this will about a year. so so far over 250,000 women have deployed in support of the current war which is about 10% of the deployed force. it was about 7% of the deployed force during the persian gulf
war. over 140 women have been killed. 865 have received purple hearts during the current wars. and a number of them have received other major military awards for valor. >> thank you very much. it's been great having you here today. i want to thank you and i'm sure everyone in the audience wants to thank you. not as your service as women, but your service in the armed forces and service for your country. all of us are americans there to defend our country. and there are other women veterans in the audience. would you please stand up. i know you're here. [ applause ] again thank you for being here today. if you want some more information about the veterans history project, we have it