Women in Combat is a Necessity


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Aryana Hamrick, Lifestyles and Entertainment Editor

Ground combat has had many definitions, that are still changing in today’s wars. Once, ground combat was considered lining up across from the other military group in firing lines and shooting as well as dying where they stood. During the American Revolution, American soldiers used a tactic called Guerrilla warfare where they ambushed the enemy instead of allowing them the opportunity to shoot them on sight. Closer to date, ground combat is considered when a group is receiving direct fire from an enemy. With the constant changing definition of what exactly ground combat is one could assume that the policies following those definitions would change as well (McNulty). However, women are still following under the same policies as their mothers did with few to no variations. The difference for the current generation is that ground combat can no longer be avoided for women in the field. With the need for women on the front line there creates a difficult question for some people, “Should women be allowed in combat positions?” The answer is yes, because women have been facing combat for years, and they should be legally allowed in the positions that they already hold.

In February of 1988, the then current Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci established a memorandum known as the “Risk Rule.” The Risk Rule stated, “risk of exposure to direct combat, hostile fire, or capture are proper criteria for closing noncombat positions or units to women, provided that… such risk are equal to or greater than that experienced by associated combat units in the same theater of operations (McNulty 3).” This was not questioned until 1992 when George H. W. Bush appointed fifteen members to study the current rules regarding combat positions for women known as the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in Armed Forces. The National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1992 and 1993 stated the decision to keep the current policy intact(14). However, in April of 1993 Secretary of Defense Les Aspin created the Implementation Committee to once again review the Department of Defense’s, Risk Rule. The committee decided that everyone is considered “at risk” therefore, the Risk Rule should be repealed and was replaced by the Ground Combat Exclusion Policy, also known as the Aspin memorandum.  This policy is the current policy regarding women in combat.

The Ground Combat Exclusion Policy directly outlines ground combat in a rule and definition. The rule states, “Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignments to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” Ground combat is 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 force’s personnel. Direct ground combat takes place well forward on the battlefield while locating and closing with the enemy to defeat them by fire, maneuver, or shock effect.” The memorandum also allows for the specific Services to decide which jobs to restrict from women(McNulty 2). Job restrictions in the Army are infantry, armor, cannon field artillery, multiple rocket artillery, and special operations jobs fields(6). Additionally, the Marine Corps restricts women from participating in infantry, tank and assault amphibious vehicles, and artillery job fields and unit attachments(9).

One instance in which the new policy was rendered useless in the following years was the Lioness Program. The Ground Combat Exclusion Policies lax rules regarding all of the Services’ ability to enact their own policies allowed for confusing wording as well as loopholes which permitted the Lioness Program to take place. When the U.S was first stationed in Iraq, there was a need for women attached to all men combat units, which was technically illegal when consulting the Department of Defense’s memorandum. However, because under the same policy the Army was allowed to create their own assignment policy specific for their Service the program took place. The Army Regulation 600-13, Army Policy for the Assignment of Female Soldiers states, “The Army’s assignment policy for female soldiers allows women to serve in any officer or enlisted specialty or position except those specialties, positions, or units (battalion size or smaller) which were assigned a routine mission to engage in direct combat, or which collocate routinely with units assigned a direct combat mission (McNulty 6).” Under the Army’s policy women were allowed to be stationed with combat units because they served short-term deployments before returning to their regularly assigned job.

The objective of these women was to search Iraqi women and children seeing as the culture did not approve of their male counterparts doing so (McNulty 6). What was not expected at the time was for the Iraqi women to begin sharing valuable entail pertaining to the insurgency in the area with the Lionesses. It became a known fact to those involved that the presence of American women soldiers calmed the Iraqi women in a way that would not have been imaginable had they been male, given the culture (7).

A downfall to the program lies within the laws restricting women from combat. These women were leaving their regular noncombat jobs to participate in combat operations. In the spring of 2004, a group of Lioness was supporting a Marine unit, the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. They came under fire. The Lioness group was not properly trained to be supporting the Marines due to the differences in operational effectiveness as well as their blatant lack of combat training (McNulty 7). Leading official Lieutenant Colonel Brinkley states, “Did I have female soldiers in battle? Yes. Was the intent of those soldiers to be in battle when they went? Ah, well, I don’t know– probably not. But did battle come to them on occasion? Yeah, it did.” This proves that the reality was that women were serving in combat positions without any of the additional combat training. The duties of these women were once again changed along with how the war around them was changing (8).

Another huge disadvantage to these women was the fact that they were being targeted. A few instances of this would be in June of 2005 when a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a military convoy transporting a Lioness team on their way to a checkpoint they visited daily. In 2007 Corporal Jennifer M. Parcell, a male soldier, and two Iraqi police officers were killed when an Iraqi female detonated an explosive vest (McNulty 12). There are other instances of insurgency groups targeting women throughout the tenure of the program in Iraq and Afghanistan. By refusing women the additional training it allows groups such as these to target and kill servicewomen who are, sometimes unwillingly, put into combat possible situations.

Additionally, CNN USA Today Gallup conducted a survey in December of 2001. They asked Americans their opinions on “whether military opportunities should be available for women to serve in combat roles, including combat aviation, submarines, and Special Forces.” These were the results: seventy percent supported women flying in combat aircraft, seventy-three percent supported women serving in submarines, sixty-three percent supported women serving as Special Forces, and fifty-two percent supported women serving as combat troops. They later did a survey again in May of 2005 asking “whether women should be allowed to serve in combat roles.”  Seventy-two percent thought women should be able to serve anywhere in Iraq, sixty-seven percent supported women serving in combat zones in support of ground troops, and forty-four percent supported women serving as ground troops who are doing most of the fighting (McNulty 3). In 2005 a poll was conducted with West Point, and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets, and non-military students. The question they were asked was “whether women should serve in a variety of military roles, including as hand-to-hand combat soldiers.” Of the 598 civilians students, sixty-seven and two tenths percent of female and forty-three and five tenths percent of males, of the 509 Reserves cadets forty-one and three tenths percent of females and eighteen and two tenths percent of males, and of the 218 West Point cadets thirty-two and four tenths percent of females and ten and three tenths percent of males voted in support of these roles(4). Statistically speaking, military-affiliated groups are less likely to vote in favor of women in combat, but they are typically ill-informed about the women who are already serving in these roles.

The fact is as of December 2015 the ban on women in combat was lifted (“Women in Combat” 1). The reason is that women were already doing the jobs they were told they could not do. Women were already fighting on the front line of a war that has no front line, and that is what made their participation so valuable. Public knowledge of what was, and is, going on in Iraq and Afghanistan is very low; however, support of women in combat is very high because, for those people, it is not about why they should be allowed in those positions, it is about why they are not already. Valid points about sexual harassment have been made, but excluding nearly fifteen percent of active-duty enlisted soldiers from jobs they are capable of doing does nothing except hurt women further. The Lioness teams performed combat operations with little to no combat training, and by now offering that to women before they deploy strengthens the fighting force.


Works Cited

Brower, J. Michael. “Women Should Be Allowed to Serve in Combat in the U.S Armed Forces.” Should Women Be Allowed in Combat in the U.S. Armed Forces?, edited by Diane Andrews Henningfeld, Greenhaven Press, 2008.

Dao, James. “Women warriors: the U.S military lifts its long-standing ban on women in combat.” Junior Scholastic/Current Events, 18 Mar. 2013.

Kenny, Jack. “Wanted: women in combat for wars without end: a woman marine contends, contrary to politicians, that women should not be allowed in marine infantry units because such a move would lessen fighting effectiveness.” The New American, 22 Dec. 2014.

Mabus, Ray. “Combat-ready is not about gender.” Washington Post, 25 Sept. 2015.

McNulty, Shelly S. “Myth busted: women are serving in ground combat positions.” Air Force Law Review, Winter 2012.

Neumayr, George. “Women in Combat Roles Weaken the U.S Armed Services.” Should Women Be Allowed In Combat in the U.S Armed Forces?, edited by Diane Andrews Henningfeld, Greenhaven Press, 2008.

Olson, Wyatt. “Sexual Harassment, Assault More Likely for Deployed Women Who Saw ‘Combat’.” Sexual Assault and the Military, edited by Noah Berlatsky, Greenhaven Press, 2015

“Women in Combat.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2018.