The early history of women in the military services was largely one of restriction, with stringent limits on where they could serve, what they could do, and what units they could join. Beginning in 1992, marked changes in law and policy have dramatically altered this situation. First, Congress repealed the combat exclusion laws, making it possible for women to fly combat aircraft and serve on combat vessels. Second, the Department of Defense (DoD) replaced the risk rule, which restricted women from assignments based on the “risk of exposure to direct combat, hostile fire, or capture” with a restriction on direct ground combat. The latter restriction was based on the probability of any given occupation or assignment leading to involvement in direct ground combat. These changes had two effects: new skills—and new units—opened to women.
DoD previously asked NDRI to study the effects of these expanded opportunities for women on the readiness, cohesion, and morale of the forces. The results of that study showed negligible effects on these aspects of the military services but also showed that the progress of integrating women into the new occupations was slow (Harrell and Miller, 1997).
Subsequent to the NDRI study, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) published two reports that raised some issues related to gender (GAO, 1998, 1999). More specifically, the reports questioned whether service requirements were being used to exclude women from occupations that were open to them and whether women and men were getting equal opportunities to work in their specialties.