A Women’s Place is in Combat Too

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion, Politics, War

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Published on December 13, 2012 with 7 Comments

Women in Combat

By Ralph E. Stone

December 13, 2012

The ban on women in combat in ground combat units is one of the last vestiges of sexism. Under the guise of protecting the “weaker” or “fairer” sex, the armed forces discriminate against women by denying them the perks of serving in combat positions.

Women constitute 14 percent of active duty personnel. They are prevented from serving in more than 238,000 positions (including all infantry positions), are excluded from some training schools, and their chances for promotion or receiving veterans benefits are limited. Yet 85 percent of female personnel deployed after September 11, 2011 were sent to a combat zone and many were involved in combat operations. Let’s face it, there are no front lines and few safe places in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57 (1981), the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the male-only draft under the Military Selective Service Act and held “the Act’s registration provisions do not violate the Fifth Amendment. Congress acted well within its constitutional authority to raise and regulate armies and navies when it authorized the registration of men and not women.”

Since the Rostker decision, sections 8539 and 6015 of title 10, U.S.C., which prohibited the assignment of women to aircraft engaged in combat and vessels engaged in combat (except aviation officers assigned as part of an air wing or other element) have been repealed. However, Section 652, of title 10, U.S.C., enacted after this repeal, makes it clear that Congress is the final decider as to whether women can serve in combat positions.

Congress repealed the combat exclusion laws in the January 1994 National Defense Authorization Act, but requires the services to submit proposed changes to existing assignment policy to Congress for review.

However, pursuant to a Department of Defense (DoD) memorandum, dated January 13, 1994, women are still restricted from assignment to units below the battalion level whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat.

Congress established the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) as part of the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. The commission’s task was to evaluate and assess policies that provide opportunities for promotion and advancement of minority members of the armed forces. On March 15, 2011, the MLDC recommended that the prohibition on women serving in combat roles be removed using a “time-phased approach.”

In its February 2012, report to Congress, following the MLDC recommendation, the Department of Defense recommended to “Eliminate the co-location exclusion from the 1994 [DoD] policy.” However, the report cautioned that “changes to DoD’s policies will require time to implement fully. There are serious practical barriers, which if not approached in a deliberate manner, could adversely impact the health of our Service members and degrade mission accomplishment. Change of this magnitude requires sufficient time and resources.”

In the past few years, a number of lawsuits have been filed arguing implicitly that the DoD is dragging its feet on opening up combat positions to women. And that excluding women from combat positions and other positions solely on the basis of sex violates the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For example, in Hegar v. Panetta, plaintiffs Major Mary Hegar, served in the U.S. Air Force and her aircraft was shot down in Afghanistan; Captain Zoe Bedell, a Marine Corps officer served twice in Afghanistan; First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, a Marine Corps officer, served in Afghanistan; and Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hund, U.S. Army Reserves, served both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each was disadvantaged because, although they served in combat zones, they were unable to serve officially in combat jobs. See the full profile of these plaintiffs.

Why is the DoD taking so long to open up combat positions to women? Other countries have done so with little or no difficulty. A 2010 survey by the British Ministry of Defense listed Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden as countries that allow women in “close combat roles,” defined as “engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile forces personnel.” Australia joined the list in September 2011 when it opened its front-line units — including one of the largest contingents in Afghanistan — to women.

Today, military service in the US 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. you people have no idea what these women will encounter. 

  2. I’m of (at least) two minds about this.

    On the one hand, of course women should be allowed in combat. People should be judged on their qualifications, not their sex.

    Of course people *have* been judged based on their sex when it came time to draft people (i.e. involuntary servitude). When you said that military serivce is voluntary, you glossed over the fact that men have been discriminated against in this ugly way for decades, and women have been none too keen to fight for the “right” to be pressed into involuntary servitude. In fact, in earlier times (Civil War, WWI), women were the primary participants in uncovering and shaming men who were trying to evade the draft… an ugly piece of history that feminists conveniently forget. Nor is the discrimination completely over. Military service is voluntary at this *moment*. But selective service still exists and only men have to register, which means the government reserves the right to re-institute the (male-only) draft at any moment. And… only men are deprived of public benefits such as student loans, and subject to criminal penalties, for the crime of failing to register, because women aren’t subject to registration. I notice that women aren’t fighting for the right to be forced to register, only the right to be in combat roles so that they can get promoted.

    Which is not to say I want to include women in the draft. Two wrongs don’t make a right. We need to eliminate that abomination for *everyone*. I’m just saying that when it comes to discriminating against men, nobody gives a damn. We have a 13th Amendment which states clearly that “NEITHER slavery NOR involuntary servitude shall exist in these United States,” [emphsis mine] and yet the courts have ruled that *this* form of involuntary servitude is just fine. I wonder if that sort of a ruling would stand if women rather than men were on the receiving end of the shit sandwich? Anyway, just goes to show that the constitution is a worthless piece of paper. In reality it’s interpreted exactly as the rulers see fit.

    And this doesn’t even get into the whole morality of what it is that the military is doing out there. Even if everything was perfectly equal and voluntary, the whole imperialist project remains immoral.

    We have 700 bases occupying the world, we’re blowing up wedding parties, creating disease and misery by destroying infrastructure, torturing, assassinating, overthrowing democracy and propping up authoritarian regimes… all in the service of corporate profit. Oh but now gays and blacks and women all get to participate in the slaughter. Yippee. Let’s all get together and frickin’ sing kumbaya.

  3. Wow!  A lib Vietnam vet who approves of moms and daughters in infantry.  Weird… Mr. Stone, News Flash: Women are already in combat, but not in direct combat units.  For women to be in direct combat units (i.e., infantry, SF, Artillery, Armor, etc.) they should be held to the same PT standards as men, subjected to a monthly pregnancy test (subject to court martial if fail test), register for Selective Service @ 18 years of age, be willing to endure long field deployments (not 2 weeks) with heavy rucks, be able to carry a 200 + pound Trooper to safety, cut hair, bathe and urinate/dump with other grunts, be able to defend herself in hand-to-hand combat, endure being raped if captured, ignore sexual comments when grunts are blowing off steam, etc… Did you ever think that a woman menstruating would need to be removed from her unit in the field because the odor would compromise the units location.  Who is going to fill her spot.  Ummm….There is a lot more I could go into but it would be too much to list here.  So, Mr. Stone, is this is really what you want for moms and daughters?   Just by your article, I question your credentials as a vet.  BTW, who is going to take care of the maimed/wounded and PTSD moms and daughters when they return?  Mr. Stone, did you know it is more likely for a disabled woman vet to be abandoned by her spouse opposed to a man.   This is why God made women, to be nurturers and caregivers. Food for thought… Mr. Stone before you write another ludicrous article advocating women in direct combat units.

    • Mike, you sound like someone from the last century. You sound like those people who threw a litany of kitchen sink arguments against integrating the military for african americans and gays, just to see what sticks. None of it has any merit, and the military will make do just fine.

      The larger issue is what it is that the military is doing.

      • @Greg, you sound like a person who never served in the Military or Combat Arms.  You did not read everything I posted regarding the complexities (i.e. physical strength, hygiene, rape, harassment, etc.)  This is well documented in the military; this is the reason women have not been integrated into direct combat units.  If women had to adhere to the same standards as men today, most (a majority) will be eliminated from the military.  Why didn’t the ACLU sue for women meet the same standards as me.  Interesting… BTW, the use of “African Americans” is a different argument (apples and oranges).  I am specifically talking about “gender.”   No matter how vociferous you “libs” advocate women in direct combat, it is a fantasy that will never happen.  Even a majority of women in the military don’t agree.  It is the civilians that are pushing this.”

        • Mike, I really didn’t want to do a point-by-point rebuttal, because your arguments really are sophomoric variations of all the stuff we’ve heard about gays and blacks. You’re probably against gays in the military too.

          But let me go ahead and tear apart the “strength” argument because that seems on the surface to be the best one you’ve got.

          Bottom line: all men are not stronger than all women. Period. And if you add combat training into the mix, the disparities are even more muddled. With sufficient training (martial arts, etc.), you could probably get 95% of women trained to the point where they could stand up to 95% of men. And yet… why is it that 100% men (with a few exceptions) are subject to selective service, and can serve in combat, while 100% of women can’t? Even if you quibble with my percentages, surely you can see that excluding 100% of women doesn’t make any sense, right?

          Take a 6’2″ spouse abuser like SF Fire Chief Joanna Hayes-White, for example. She could kick the crap out of, say, a 5’2″ male. And yet she doesn’t have to register and she can’t serve in combat, while the little runt does have to register and would get put into a combat role. Is that fair to either?

          As for me… I don’t want to personalize it, but you’re right. I’m actually a perfect case in point for the stupidity of a gender based policy! I haven’t served in combat. Nor would I. Because I’d make a lousy soldier on many levels. Against a woman like Joanna Hayes white, I probably wouldn’t last 2 minutes in a dark alley. In fact, I think most women would make better cannon fodder than I would. Nothing particularly wrong with me… I’m just not combat material. And yet, the one-size-fits-all policy would stuff me into a combat role, while literally *millions* of women who are  far better suited for that role are excluded. Now I just don’t think that’s fair.

          As for the rest of the stuff… women screaming, menstruating (seriously, what century are we in?)… all that stuff falls under the category of “deal with it dude.” Carry 200lbs? Many men can’t do that either, and yet they’re stuffed into combat roles.

          Oh and one more thing… this argument has been used against women serving as cops and firefighters. Can’t lift a hose… can’t take down a male suspect… etc etc. They serve just fine. Women serve as cops, as firefighters, as combat troops in other countries, and they’ll do just fine in this country too.

          I’m more concerned about what we’re using our military *for*, both men and women.

          • @Greg, your ad hominem attack calling my arguments “sophomoric” proves my point.  You never served in the military and have no empirical knowledge for debate. You probably had your sister defend you from bullies. LOL A man who wants a woman to be in direct combat is a “coward.”  So, if the shoe fits – wear it bro!  Regardless of physical strength, think about being the field/foxhole for a long periods of  time w/a female and sharing intimate moments and seeing her naked body.  Eventually you are going to feel protective and develop feelings for that person. It is only human.  Men don’t need those kind of distractions.  War is not a social experiment; it is about killing.  I am a former Marine/Army, 6:3 220lbs, weightlifter who can destroy any woman who challenges me.  The worlds strongest woman could not complete in the NFL, MLB, NBA, and Olympics on par w/men; therefore, your argument is baseless.  A majority of my former/current military friends are in the same optimum shape and no woman could challenge them.  Before you give your rebuttal watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPM1TO_al84 and imagine a woman performing the act.  Is this what you want women to evolve into? War is not a video game.