US Army makes history with first female tank operator

While the IDF is debating whether to integrate women into additional combat positions, the US Army has made history by allowing a woman to serve as a tank operator.
Illustration Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

In Israel, debates on whether women should be allowed to serve as combat soldiers in the IDF Armored Corps continue while the United States has already established facts on the ground. This past week, Sergeant First Class Erin Smith became the first female tank operator in the US Army. Smith is currently a frontline combat soldier in the world's most advanced tank unit "Abrams" with the Idaho National Guard.

"I was interested in the idea of being an Army tanker long before talk about integration so when the opportunity came up, I decided to go for it," Smith said in a statement. "Any doubts I had about not being accepted or being treated different I no longer have. My peers, the leadership and instructors throughout the training have all been extremely supportive."

The unit in which Smith serves has in the past been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In the last decade, about 280,000 women served in the US Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan in a number of positions and duties.

Last week, the IDF reported a decrease in the number of men who enlist and are motivated to serve in combat positions. Thus, there are debates on whether to allow women to serve in additional combat positions. A senior-level IDF official said that the army has opened an inquiry into the possibility of integrating women into four new positions that until now were closed to them: the Armored Corps, the navy's new combat ships, heavy equipment (D-9) operators and special Israeli Air Force unit 669.

Ron Tal calls integration a "scandal" Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

The senior-level official emphasized that the decision has not been finalized yet and that the IDF is reviewing the matter with regards to crossing enemy lines. The IDF is also reviewing whether women have the physiological capabilities in order to handle the situations commonly faced by the soldiers in these positions.

Yet, not everyone is happy with the discussions regarding the possible integration of women. When it was announced that the IDF will test the integration of women into the Armored Corps, there were objections. Former Commander of Ground Forces and Reserve Major General Yiftach Ron Tal said he is strongly against these moves as they will weaken the IDF. In an interview with Israel Army Radio, he stated that the integration of women into the Armored Corps is "a scandal that will hurt all imaginable possibilities and even the IDF's own capabilities."

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