Women in Combat

Posted: October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Defense Department will send to the Armed Services panels in October a review of the roles women should play in the military, and of the existing combat exclusion, according to a senior Pentagon leader. There are indications the report could call for lifting some, if not all, combat exclusions, according to senior congressional aides and military officials. The review was ordered in the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill (PL 111-383) and follows a 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission report that recommended lifting all combat restrictions on women. The diversity commission was created as part of the fiscal 2009 defense authorization law (PL 110-417). The review was due in April, but the Defense Department at the time told Congress that it was conducting a deep review of all policies affecting women in the military and required more time, which created an expectation that significant changes may be proposed, senior congressional aides said. ―It certainly has raised expectations,‖ one aide said.
Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon‘s top acquisitions official who has been nominated to become deputy Defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ―as the nature of the combat environment has evolved, the roles of women in the military have expanded, and will continue to do so.‖ In written response to questions posed by the panel, Carter said the Pentagon ―believes it has sufficient flexibility under current law to make appropriate assignment policy for women. The department will continue to monitor combat needs, and if the services recommend expanding combat roles for woman, the department will notify Congress accordingly as required by statute.‖ Further raising expectations was the recently confirmed next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, ―the nature of current conflict is there‘s no front line and back line. And so some of the rules we have in place on co-location, for example, are simply outdated and need to be revised.‖ Dempsey added, ―The DoD task force is looking . . . also at the issue of changing access to particular military occupational specialties. . . . I think we‘ll learn that there are additional opportunities to be made available.‖
A senior congressional aide who specializes in military women issues noted that should the Pentagon make policy changes, Congress would have about 30 days to stop the action. But to date, when the military has opened certain positions to women, Congress has not intervened. The Navy, for example, opened service on submarines to women, and the Marine Corps recently expanded service opportunities for women in intelligence specialties. ―Any decision regarding opening additional specialties for service by women should be based on our obligation to maintain a high state of mission readiness of our all-volunteer force,‖ Carter wrote.
The Pentagon review is being conducted by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and is looking at the direct combat assignment policy in coordination with the military departments and the Joint Staff. ―If confirmed, I would examine proposed policy changes as a result of this review and work with the Congress to implement them,‖ Carter said. A senior congressional aide said that if changes were proposed they would have to be based on specific standards. Female candidates for combat roles probably would be required to meet all the performance requirements that men are required to meet. If changes are coming, the aide said, they probably would be phased in, keeping in mind that training would be required to sensitize the existing combat force to the coming changes. The phasing would ease concerns related to a combat force engaged in significant combat operations. There also would be a host of administrative changes in policy that could take some time to implement.
Restrictions on women in combat, called the Ground Combat Exclusion Policy, were put in place in 1994 by Defense Secretary Les Aspin. But both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the proliferation of women in combat support roles exposed women to significant combat, whether they were performing military policing or convoy protection in a battle zone with no clear battle lines, which effectively has changed perceptions of women in warfare. The Diversity Commission noted in its report, ―While we find the promotion policies and practices of the Department of Defense and the services to be fair, we find also that there are some barriers to improving demographic representation among military leaders.‖ As a result, a key recommendation of the report is that ―DoD and the services should eliminate the combat exclusion policy for women, including the removal of barriers and inconsistencies, to create a level playing field for all qualified servicemembers.‖ The commission recommended a time-phased approach for opening all units to women, and to take deliberate steps to open additional career fields and units involved in direct combat to ―qualified women.‖
The commission found that women were underrepresented across the services. Restrictions on women were greater in the Army and Marine Corps, with 91 percent of career fields in the Army and 94 percent of the Marine Corps open to women compared with 99 percent of the Air Force and 94 percent of the Navy.  The Navy percentage is actually higher today since the opening of the submarine field to women. In both the Army and Marines the restricted areas all involve combat roles. But the commission did not advocate for a lowering of standards, saying that qualifications for combat roles should remain in place. The commission brushed aside arguments that the presence of women would somehow affect morale and unit cohesion in combat units. The panel noted how in other areas where women have been integrated, the same concerns were raised ahead of time, but did not materialize. Studies conducted regarding women serving in combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan found that ―a majority of focus group participants felt that women serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a positive effect on mission accomplishment.‖ In the end, the commission found that current combat exclusions no longer fit the modern, more fluid operational combat environment where there are no clear front lines. [Source: CQ Today Online News Frank Oliveri 16 Sep 2011 ++]


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