Mothers, Daughters and Sisters

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On Memorial Day weekend, CBS devoted its news show 60 Minutes to a story about Iowa soldiers in Iraq entitled Fathers, Sons and Brothers. Reporter Scott Pelley has followed the 1st Battalion of the 133rd Infantry of the Iowa National Guard since the soldiers learned of their deployment in July 2005. Although scheduled to come home this spring, the 1st Battalion is still serving in Iraq, having had its tour of duty extended an extra 125 days.

No doubt, it is an honor to be featured by 60 Minutes, one of the country’s preeminent news shows. These soldiers deserve the honor and then some. Since arriving in Iraq, the Iowa Guard has run over 300 missions and covered 2.5 million miles. Two have been killed in action and 25 wounded.

But Fathers, Sons and Brothers – how offensive. My sister, a Navy Reservist from Iowa, and thousands of other Mothers, Daughters and Sisters are serving in the military. Like her, many of them are in Iraq. Like her, they’ve left behind husbands, children, elderly parents and siblings, and in doing so have ripped the very fabric of their families and communities apart.

According to the report,”the men of the 1st Battalion”drew one of the most critical missions in the war: escorting the convoys that deliver supplies to the American troops. The men and women of the U.S. military serve critical missions all around the world. Before deployment, my sister assisted in humanitarian efforts with Navy and Marine units in Africa, providing essential medical supplies and services to far-flung villages from Togo to Senegal. Today, she provides logistical support for the construction of hospitals, schools and other essential infrastructure in and around Baghdad, and her female colleagues in Iraq serve as electricians, medics, engineers and truck drivers.

Nearly 350,000 women are serving in the U.S. military, which is about 15 percent of active duty personnel. Ten percent of American troops in Iraq are women. Eighty female soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Yet the only woman mentioned in the 60 Minutes story was by way of a passing reference to a member of an”unusual”husband and wife team.

It’s a shame that CBS’s report was so gender-biased, because otherwise it was an in-depth, heartfelt look at the lives of soldiers in Iraq and their families, which laid bare the devastating effects of the Bush Administration’s troop-surge, stop-loss policies. If 60 Minutes were to focus on the effects of deployment on women soldiers, it would find equivalent hardships along with equivalent strength, wisdom, good humor, leadership and esprit de corps. And yes, they would find the same level of disillusionment and frustration with this war.

Just as Lysistrata convened a meeting of all of the women of Greece to plot an end to the Peloponnesian Wars over 2,000 years ago, greater recognition and empowerment of women worldwide may be our best hope for a future liberated from warfare.

–Sandi Zellmer

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