Two Big Army Salutes to Military Women's Equality

12/22/2015 04:16 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2016

What a momentous event for the US Army and for women. The Army promoted Brigadier General Diana Holland to Commandant of the Army Corp of Cadets at West Point. She is the first woman ever to hold that position.

Major General (soon to be Lieutenant General) Nadja West will be the Army's new Surgeon General. West is both the first black woman to become Lieutenant General and the first black woman to hold the Army Surgeon General's position.

What an incredible achievement for women, and men. What an excellent move for the Army. When we talk about women's firsts this has to be one of those quintessential moments that can change the status of military women in so many good ways. Given the magnitude of their assignments, West and Holland have an opportunity to affect change to sexual assault and sexual harassment of women in the Army and potentially other services.

With Holland, one hopes, the blatant, in your face, "we don't want women here" behavior that women have faced at West Point since their first arrival in 1976 will disappear. Now maybe the rate of sexual assaults and harassment will decrease if a woman commandant takes the safety of women and respect for women at West Point seriously. A no-tolerance policy with expulsion as an end result for inappropriate behavior would be a great first step to stopping discrimination and sexual violence immediately. The level of seriousness given to enforcement and punishment of behavior just might, - might - create a ripple effect. Changes that happen at West Point might carry over to the other military academies and the armed services as well.

West, according to the Army Times will be in charge of the Army's medical treatment facilities and will be responsible for an integrated Army-wide health service system. She will set policy and insure that standards are met equally at all the facilities. What a great opportunity to insure that Army women, (and men) who report rape or sexual assault are handled properly and taken seriously when they come to seek medical treatment.

The time could not be better to do it differently at West Point. Department of Defense studies show that last year eight percent of women were sexually assaulted while attending our tax-payer supported military academies including the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy. (Sadly true, military academies are exempt from Title IX violations regarding their handling of sexual assault complaints.) Upwards of 85 percent of women have experienced sexism and discrimination; less than 70 women of the approximately 1,400 women who were sexually assaulted or harassed in 2014, reported what had happened to them.

Slowly implementing procedures from January 2014 that rely on behavior modification and increased reporting have not been successful enough. Encouraging increased reporting of sexual harassment or assault without creating a system that takes real action leads to decreased reporting. And decreased reporting is showing up as positives in the statistics for the military while the problems continue.
It is time, once and for all, for the Army and the military to stop sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Together these two high ranking Army women have a chance to create real and lasting change for women if they are allowed. Especially now that women have passed the US Army Ranger course and plans are underway to integrate women into combat units

Wishful thinking? Maybe. Putting a lot on the new West Point Commandant and the new Army Surgeon General? Not Hardly! These women have run a gauntlet to get where they are right now. Can you imagine the level of inappropriate sexual and racial comments that each of these women experienced on their journey to this level?

It is now an opportunity for these ground-breaking women to turn their experiences into something transformative for both the military and for its women. Let us celebrate these women's firsts without losing sight of the need to keep pressing forward, to keep expecting and demanding change. Women serving our country - and - serving in harm's way, should never have to worry about disrespect or danger from within their own ranks.