Academic journal article Military Review

Integrating Women into the Infantry

Academic journal article Military Review

Integrating Women into the Infantry

Article excerpt

At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, there were 13 women killed in action Of those, four were termed "hostile deaths " out of a total of 148 U.S. combat deaths.

WOMEN HAVE NOT been given a chance to succeed on an equal footing with men in the military. Even after decades of reform, initiated by the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973, women are excluded from six principal job groups: infantry, armor, short-range air defense, cannon artillery, combat engineers, and special forces. Opponents of total gender integration point out that women cannot perform the physically demanding work these job groups require. Opponents also say that putting women into units where only men have traditionally served will jeopardize the Army's combat readiness by ruining unit cohesion.

This article proposes that the U.S. Army integrate women into the infantry branch. It will dispel practical notions that a woman is too "weak" to do an infantryman's job and that her presence will destroy team spirit and ground maneuver units' fighting effectiveness. This article does not dispute those who believe it is wrong for the United States to send women to fight close combat battles, nor is it an advocate for those who wish to destroy gender barners simply because they exist. It acknowledges the personal nature of those points of view and avoids them altogether. Instead, this article assumes a sociopolitical climate in which only practical debate is waged about whether to integrate women into the infantry. The issue, then, is not about right and wrong but about suitability and feasibility. Can women do the infantryman's job, and how can the Army help them do it? The key assumption, here, is that American women would volunteer to become infantry soldiers if given the chance.

Why Women in the Infantry?

Ground combat units contain the only jobs closed to women in land-based military forces today. Before the AVF, which recruited women to replace some of the Army's postdraft manpower losses, women made up 3 percent of all soldiers in the Army. Today, women account for 14 percent of all soldiers and 20 percent of all recruits.1 They fly attack helicopters, command military police companies, drive infantry soldiers into combat on trucks, and "man" logistics bases far forward, or in the midst, of ground maneuver forces. In the past 15 years, women have been killed in combat. At the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, there were 13 women killed in action. Of those, four were termed "hostile deaths" out of a total of 148 U.S. combat deaths.2 Interestingly, two of those deaths occurred when an Iraqi Scud missile hit a temporary barracks housing combat service support units far behind the forward edge of the battle area.3

These deaths seem to back the notion that today's battlefield is no longer as well-defined as it once was. For example, U.S. offensive doctrine calls for attacking the enemy's lines of communication, in addition to his main defenses, to disrupt their combat forces' resupply.4 The theory is that, if successful, the enemy's maneuver forces will run out of rations, ammunition, and the will to fight, in that order. It is no secret that the United States' conventional threat uses the same doctrine. Our field trains, brigade support areas, and division support areas are the key objectives of conventional enemy attacks. It is also no secret that most Army women work in these areas.

This doctrine transforms all soldiers-men and women-in field command and control and/or logistics areas into front-line combatants, at least in the enemy's eyes. Why attack through infantry and armor when the division rear can be penetrated? Of course, this says nothing about why women belong in the infantry.

Proponents of giving women the right to serve in ground combat units usually use a combination of arguments: an equal opportunity to serve is every American's right; current technologies are genderneutral; and other nations allow women in the infantry. …

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