January 04, 2004


Because of religious and cultural taboos on touching between men and women who aren't married or closely related, an all-male Border Patrol could not search women. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, whose 101st Airborne is responsible for northern Iraq, called for women to join the new Iraqi security forces that the occupation authority was trying to create. He said he was worried that terrorists would use women to ferry equipment and messages back and forth.

Several dozen responded. There were teachers, clerical workers and housewives as well as some former Kurdish guerrillas, known as pesh merga. . . .

Elite solders from the 101st Airborne were put in charge of training, and at first they worried that the women would be too timid and weak. Sgts. Jacob Dixson and Louis Gitlin said they were surprised to find that women did better than men in simulated missions.

"They would always find the bombs fast and search fast," Dixson said. Added Gitlin, "The women had something to prove, so they took everything more seriously." . . .

The women in the Border Patrol range in age from 17 to 54. They include young waifs with chips of polish still on their fingernails and bulky, tough ones with wizened faces who carry several pistols and knives in addition to the AK-47s they are issued.

The 101st has been doing amazing work in Iraq. Reader Wagner James Au emails: "Can we get behind a public push to give David Petraeus of the 101st Airborne the Medal of Honor?" I don't think they give the Medal for this sort of thing, but he certainly deserves a lot of recognition.