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Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy: Women in the war against terrorism

Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy (Ret.) is the author of "Generally Speaking." When she became a three-star general in 1997, she became the Army's highest-ranking woman ever.

CNN: Welcome to Gen. Kennedy. We are pleased to have you with us today.

LT. GEN. CLAUDIA KENNEDY: Thank you very much. I'm glad to see that there are so many people interested in what's going on around the world, as well as in our own country, and it's probably a first for many of us to realize that the operation is in our own backyard.

CNN: What kinds of military roles will women play in this new war against terrorism?

KENNEDY: The roles that women will play in this new operation will be the same ones they've been trained for their time in the military. Women are in all fields of the Army, other than infantry, armor, and artillery. So, the kinds of jobs you see women doing include intelligence, signals and communications, engineering, ordinance, and many different logistics jobs.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: I was wondering if any women were serving in Special Forces on the ground in Afghanistan?

KENNEDY: Special Forces is made up of infantry, so women, strictly speaking, are not Special Forces soldiers. However, women are in all of the roles, along with other men, in support of those Special Forces units. So there are women on the ground in that area of operations. Now, let me add that I'm using the words "area of operations" to indicate some vagueness about which exact country, since I personally don't know which country each unit is in.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General, are there any plans to limit the role of women in this conflict to avoid offending Islamic countries in the region?

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KENNEDY: I know of no plans to limit the role of women in this conflict, but that's a good question, and one we ought to be asking. That should be asked of the Pentagon at their next briefing. I know of no plan to change anything about the role of women. My impression is that often when the U.S. military goes into an area, and of course a biproduct of that is that military women are present, that it opens the eyes of our host country to an expanded view of what women can do. It doesn't mean it necessarily changes their way of operating, but I can't believe it doesn't have some effect, to give people a new perspective on the possible roles of women that they may not have thought about.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How many women are active in the armed forces at this time? KENNEDY: Women make up about 16 percent of all of our military, and the total military in the U.S., when you include active, reserve and guard, is about 3 million. So, if I've done the math correctly, I'd say there are about 450,000 women in the total military force in the United States. The military offers a great way for a woman to get a start in life, by having a two or three year job that gives her something for her resume that shows leadership and a strong work ethic, and is readily understood by people who don't have a traditionally good appreciation for what women do.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What combat roles are women playing?

KENNEDY: Women fly helicopters. They fly fighter aircraft. They are on the ships at sea. Anytime the Army is in combat, so are women. What women are excluded from are the combat arms, three very particular career fields.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General Kennedy, what role will women play in the intelligence-gathering part of this conflict?

KENNEDY: Women will play the same roles they play in peacetime and in every operation. Women are found in every military occupational specialty found in Army intelligence.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Please don't forget us nurses who served our country.

KENNEDY: That's right. Nurses were actually the first women in the Army, and they came in in World War I. Army nurses are the most important figures in our health care system, because they touch every patient, and are often the last person a dying soldier sees.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Gen. Kennedy, in 2001, what do you see as the role of the American wife/mother/daughter left at home while their loved ones go to war? Surely it is most different than in any other conflict/war.

KENNEDY: I'm not sure how different it could be from any other conflict. Wives and daughters and loved ones of people who have gone to war suffer the loss and feel deep concern the entire time. They have to become autonomous and independent during that time, but be willing to reintegrate that person into the household when he comes back. I think it may be harder to watch them go away than to be the one to go away. You don't have as much information, and you have to serve in an indirect way of giving them information about what's going on at home. And you have to stay upbeat and positive to give them strength and hope. We have a t-shirt in the Army that says "Army Wife: The hardest job in the Army."

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Speaking from my tour of duty during Desert Storm I realize that women are close to, and on the front line in many capacities such as combat support, though. Do you feel that a woman could expect to be more in danger to be captured because of the cultural climate regarding women in Afghanistan?

KENNEDY: No, because I don't think it's the cultural climate that creates vulnerability to being captured.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think that there are jobs in the military that never will be filled by a female?

KENNEDY: It's hard for me to ever say "never" about anything. Who would have thought that the Pentagon would suffer the damage it did on 11 September. It felt impenetrable when I worked there. So, I can never say "never" again.

CNN: How has the military environment changed for women in the last ten years?

KENNEDY: I think the military environment is a more open one for women. Two things have happened. One is the number and diversity of jobs increasing. And, I think that we have all grown more confident of the ability of women to perform not only the traditional women's jobs, but those that are new and unusual for women to fill. The reason more jobs have been opened to women is that women have done so well in each field as it opens up to them.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: General, has there been a significant increase in the recruiting numbers for women in the armed forces since September 11?

KENNEDY: I don't know, and I asked yesterday about that, but need to follow up and do research on it. There's something called Army Knowledge Online, AKO, but I don't know if it's accessible to civilians. I intend to go on there and find out.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?

KENNEDY: I think one thing we're concerned about is how much our lives have changed, and whether it is permanent. Our sense of security has been deeply shaken. It's too soon for people to say that our lives are permanently altered. My sense of it is that our lives are different, and we need to embrace the difference, respond to it by talking to each other and supporting each other, and have faith that we have the best military force in the entire world. Our government is good at what it's doing, and this will be resolved in a way that will make us feel safe again. We may not feel safe for awhile, but that sense of safety will return. One thing I think of is how the British must have felt through those many months of the blitzkrieg, or how Americans felt during the Civil War. There are many things we can call up to remind ourselves that we can get through this. Stay strong and stay in touch with each other, and stay faithful to American values.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Gen. Claudia Kennedy.

KENNEDY: Thank you very much for being online, and staying informed. It's the most important thing you can do as a private citizen, is to stay informed, and be involved in the ways to give an opinion, and to show support by being engaged and in touch. I appreciate the opportunity to express my opinion.

Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy joined Newsroom via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, October 8, 2001.


• "Generally Speaking" -

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