Friday, May 13, 2005

It's Time to Let Women Serve in Combat Units

Over 15% of active duty forces in the U.S. Military are women. And although no one would dare claim that these women aren’t as brave and heroic as their male counterparts, they’re still thought of as less-capable soldiers.

In today’s Washington Post there is an excellent article exploring how the Iraq war is changing the role and opinions of women in the military. Because of the very nature of this war, female soldiers are often in just as much danger as their male counterparts. In many instances, supply groups are just as likely to find themselves in combat situations as are infantry units.

"The Army has to understand the regulation that says women can't be placed in direct fire situations is archaic and not attainable," said Lt. Col. Cheri Provancha, commander of a Stryker Brigade support battalion in Mosul…"This war has proven that we need to revisit the policy, because they are out there doing it," Provancha, a 21-year Army veteran from San Diego, said from her base in what soldiers call Mosul's "mortar alley." "We are embedded with the enemy."

Dozens of soldiers interviewed across Iraq -- male and female, from lower enlisted ranks to senior officers -- voiced frustration over restrictions on women mandated in Washington that they say make no sense in the war they are fighting. All said the policy should be changed to allow, at a minimum, mixed-sex support units to be assigned to combat battalions. Many favored a far more radical step: letting qualified women join the infantry.

Women have been traditionally kept out of combat because their strength and endurance are considered lacking. And our society has traditionally felt that it’s just not civilized to put a woman into combat. But Iraq might be the war to change our thinking. First, the strength issue is not as much of a problem anymore what with modern technologies (see this pro-women in combat site). Second, in regards to it not being civilized, we’ve already crossed that barrier. Women soldiers in Iraq have fought and died and been honored for their valor.

It seems clear that it is time to put to rest the notion that women shouldn’t face combat. They are capable and needed. And in a war without frontlines, they’re already facing combat almost every day. Let the women who want to serve in combat units, serve in those units—at least as support personnel.

But Congress doesn’t agree. A new bill sponsored by Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee, would explicitly ban women from serving even a support role in a combat unit. McHugh claims that his bill will treat women soldiers better because “The current policy places them in a company and treats them as equal until it's time to move forward and then they have to be left behind."

But this is a bill that will do nothing but limit the military’s ability to wage effective warfare. And it doesn’t help women soldiers, it needlessly treats them like inferiors when they could actually be assets.

The needs of Iraq should prompt our nation to expand the roles for women in the military, not restrict them.


At 7:39 AM, Blogger charmaine yoest said...

Gentlemen, your outstanding post hopefully will continue the debate. I would have liked to get your take on unit cohesion and your thoughts on the work of Mac Owens, Anna Simons and Elaine Donnelly.

Your might also check the thread at

Cheers, Charmaine

At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Julie Van Fosson said...

I served in the Army for 10 years and I was assigned to an Infantry BDE in Germany in 1979. If we went to war at that time I was going with my unit. I drove an APC's and could do anything they could do. Keeping women that want to fight for there country out of the combat zones is not fair. I would die for my country if I had to!!!!!!

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently serving in Iraq as a medic (female), I am considered a line medic, which means I go out when my unit goes out. I am with them on the line. I am been fired upon by many different weapons and treated casualties while being fired upon. Everyone not hear will discuss what is happening and what should happen but if you are not here you do not know. There is no one here that will prevent a female from doing anything a male does, if they volunteer they take them. By passing a law to limit what we do will not truly limit what we do, it will only limit what they give us credit for.


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