Time to Remove Prohibitions on Women In Combat Jobs

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion

Published on June 27, 2011 with 1 Comment

Photo courtesy Associated Press.

By Ralph E. Stone

June 27, 2011

Despite the Department of Defense’s (DoD) official prohibition on women in combat roles, 111 female soldiers have died in Iraq and 28 have died in Afghanistan. Sixty percent of these deaths were due to hostile acts.

About 200,000 women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Women make up 14.6 percent of active duty military. Women attack insurgents with strike fighters and helicopter gunships, machine guns and mortars, ride shotgun on convoys through IED (improvised explosive device) terrain and walk combat patrols with the infantry. Actually, DoD and the military services have difficulty defining what it is that women cannot volunteer to do. What makes the Iraq and Afghanistan “hostilities” different from other hostilities is that there are no clear front lines. Therefore, the line between a combat job and a support job is oftentimes blurred. The question that must be asked, why shouldn’t a woman be assigned a combat job if she is qualified and properly trained?

As with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” debate, opponents of allowing women to choose a combat job argue that the presence of women in small units that must operate for extended periods under fire, would be disruptive, or women would break the unit’s tight cohesion and cripple its fighting spirit. But research has not borne out the myths that women are too weak for combat, can harm a unit’s cohesion, or are more prone to mental health disorders than men in combat.

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) has the task of evaluating and assessing policies that provide opportunities for promotion and advancement of minority members of the armed forces, including women in combat roles. On March 15, 2011, the MLDC recommended that the prohibition on women serving in combat roles be removed. Although Congress repealed the combat exclusion laws in the January 1994 National Defense Authorization Act, the law still requires the services to submit proposed changes to existing assignment policy to Congress for review.

The MDLC noted that the military is too male and too white. As for women in combat roles, the MLDC recommended that:

DoD and the Services should eliminate the “combat exclusion policies” for women, including the removal of barriers and inconsistencies, to create a level playing field for all qualified servicemembers. The Commission recommends a time-phased approach:

–  Women in career fields/specialties currently open to them should be immediately able to be assigned to any unit that requires that career field/specialty, consistent with the current operational environment.

–  DoD and the Services should take deliberate steps in a phased approach to open additional career fields and units involved in “direct ground combat” to qualified women.

– DoD and the Services should report to Congress the process and timeline for removing barriers that inhibit women from achieving senior leadership positions.

The DoD is reviewing the MLDC’s recommendations.

I note that New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Israel, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland allow women to serve in combat roles.

Today, US military service is voluntary. Both men and women who join the military should be able to choose a combat job. The criteria for selection to a combat job should not be based on a person’s sex but whether the person is qualified, capable, competent, and able to perform the job. Nothing more, nothing less. When a woman is properly trained, she can be as tough as any man.

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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1 Comment

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  1. A very, very bad idea. No matter how much you train a woman, she’ll never be as fast or a strong or as resilient to pain as a man. Putting women in active combat roles will garner the resentment of many men in the service for many reasons. First of all, women are detrimental to unit cohesion, no man will be able to concentrate on his job over an extended period of time when there are women around. Then there’s the fact that if a unit gets captured women break a lot easier under torture and let’s face it, in almost every similar situation when women get captured in a warzone, we all know what happens to them. Then there’s the issue of hygiene, a woman is combat ineffective one week out of every month, or when she has to crawl through muck and grime and dirt for weeks, in the middle of a jungle. I’m not even going to mention Tier One units.