Let Women Fight: Ending the U.S. Military’s Female Combat Ban
Women serve in combat units all over the world with distinction. While the he American Armed Forces has benefited from outstanding service from women within their ranks, the military has thus far refused to allow women to serve on the front lines.
There is a groundswell of support to change that. The argument is that the support role to which women are assigned are now in the same proximity as the troops they support. In fact. because of that proximity women soldiers now receive combat training. That point is highlighted by the Jessica Lynch episode. The young supply clerk was ambushed at the Battle of Nasiriyah and taken hostage and was later rescued by Special Forces team.
Those who oppose the idea of women in combat cite lesser physical prowess, the distraction of men and women living in close quarters and wanting to keep women away from combat.
The world has changed. The inclusion of women in combat units in service to the armed forces around the world has proved that.
Today, 214,098 women serve in the U.S. military, representing 14.6 percent of total service members. Around 280,000 women have worn American uniforms in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 144 have died and over 600 have been injured. Hundreds of female soldiers have received a Combat Action Badge, awarded for actively engaging with a hostile enemy. Two women, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester and Specialist Monica Lin Brown, have been awarded Silver Stars — one of the highest military decorations awarded for valor in combat — for their service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Yet the U.S. military, at least officially, still bans women from serving in direct combat positions. As irregular warfare has become increasingly common in the last few decades, the difference on the ground between the frontline and support roles is no longer clear. Numerous policy changes have also eroded the division between combat and noncombat positions. More and more military officials recognize the contributions made by female soldiers, and politicians, veterans, and military experts have all begun actively lobbying Washington to drop the ban. But Congress has not budged.
Proponents of the policy, who include Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), former chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), rely on three central arguments: that women cannot meet the physical requirements necessary to fight, that they simply don’t belong in combat, and that their inclusion in fighting units would disrupt those units’ cohesion and battle readiness. Yet these arguments do not stand up to current data on women’s performance in combat or their impact on troop dynamics. Banning women from combat does not ensure military effectiveness. It only perpetuates counterproductive gender stereotypes and biases. It is time for the U.S. military to get over its hang-ups and acknowledge women’s rightful place on the battlefield.
WOMEN IN A MAN’S WORLD
Women have long served in various auxiliary military roles during wars. Further, the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act created a permanent corps of women in all the military departments. This was considered a step forward at the time, but it is also the origin of the current combat ban. The act limited women’s number to two percent of total service members and formally excluded them from combat duties. The exclusion policy was reinforced in 1981, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the all-male draft did not constitute gender-based discrimination since it was intended to increase combat troops and women were already restricted from combat.