Women in Combat: What's the Impact?

A World War I recruiting poster hanging inside Northport's VA Hospital provides vivid proof of how things have changed when it comes to women and war.

It displays a young woman dressed in a Navy uniform cooing, "I wish I were a man so I could join the Navy."

Now, of course, women are not only members of the U.S. Armed Forces, they find themselves in combat situations.

"Women are expected to train up to the same standards as the men," says decorated Marine Sergeant Christine DiCaprio.

The petite 24-year-old from Garden City speaks from experience. She served eleven months in Iraq, wielding a machine gun that weighed more than she does. DiCaprio's unit patrolled highways in Fallujah, hunting roadside bombs. She succeeded so well, she was promoted to patrol leader and in the process ending up commanding men in the field.

"You definitely kind of reach inside yourself and think about whether I will run toward this firefight or run away from it," she said.

DiCaprio's bravery is evidenced by the combat ribbons she wears on her uniform; but what's less clear is how women veterans like her will react to combat once they return home.

"To come back was definitely an adjustment," DiCaprio admits.

Joan Furey understands that all too well.  The Sayville woman served as a nurse at an Army field hospital in Vietnam and says she saw more than her share of fear and death.

Artillery shelling around the hospital was commonplace, Furey said, and while others could take cover in shelters, the nurses were forced to stay behind with the wounded soldiers who couldn't flee their beds. 

It was terrifying and haunted Furey even after she returned home.

"You would see so much...after a while, you stopped reacting emotionally.  When you came back, you paid a price for that.  You distanced yourself from family and friends." Furey recalled.

Furey first thought it was the price of being a veteran; something she had to deal with on her own.  But the nurse who went on to work for the VA and later headed Washington's Women's Center later realized she may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Furey began lobbying for a large scale study of women and PTSD.  The VA finally granted that wish this year, agreeing to study ten thousand Vietnam era women veterans -- the largest study of its kind.

"Women are impacted more severely than men when it comes to how they function," said Dr.G. Krishnamoorthy, the head of the Northport VA's PTSD program.

The hope is that data collected in this study will help women vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Christine DiCaprio, now training to be a Marine drill Sergeant, gave a glimpse into the how tough it is for a Marine who once hunted roadside bombs to leave that behind.

"I remember driving on a regular state highway after I came home," DiCaprio said.  "When I saw a garbage bag alongside the road, I remember thinking, maybe I should check that out."

Joan Furey lived through that same period of adjustment and doesn't want to abandon this new "band of sisters."

"When you send people to war, they're going to pay a price for it," said Joan Furey. 

"And when they come home, we have to rectify that price for them."

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