Women in Combat: Is the Current Policy Obsolete?

By McSally, Martha | Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Women in Combat: Is the Current Policy Obsolete?


McSally, Martha, Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy


INTRODUCTION

I.   CURRENT CONTEXT OF THE DEBATE ON WOMEN IN GROUND COMBAT
     A. Nature of Current Warfare
     B. Women's Performance in Iraq and Afghanistan
     C. Army Transformation
     D. Recruiting Challenges

II.  HISTORY OF U.S. LAW AND POLICY AND WOMEN'S ROLES IN THE
     MILITARY

III. ANALYSIS OF THE GROUND COMBAT EXCLUSION POLICY

     A. Physical Strength
        1. Military effectiveness requires that we pick the best
           qualified person for the job, regardless of gender
        2. This argument was used to keep women out of fighter
           aircraft in the early 1990s and proved to be wrong
        3. All relevant qualities should be considered
        4. The author's personal experience

     B. Cohesion
        1. Military cohesion is based on people uniting for a common
           mission or purpose, not based on the group consisting of a
           common race, creed, or gender
        2. Cohesion is a leadership issue
        3. This argument was used to keep all women out of fighter
           aircraft in the early 1990s and was proven wrong
        4. The author's personal experience

     C. Women Just Don't "Belong" In Combat
        1. Polls
        2. Body bags
        3. POWs

IV. GENDER ISSUES AND POLICIES THAT DEGRADE COMBAT EFFECTIVENESS

     A. Pregnancy

     B. Double Standards
        1. Basic Training
        2. Uniforms
        3. Double standards that demean or patronize female warriors
        4. Selective Service registration

V. POLICY AND LEGISLATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS

     A. Rescind the Collocation Policy
     B. Adopt Gender-Neutral Criteria for Assignments
     C. Rescind the Ground Combat Exclusion Policy
     D. Rescind the Policy that Permits Servicewomen to Avoid their
        Commitments Due to Pregnancy
     E. Eliminate Double Standards
     F. Amend the Military Selective Service Act to Include Women

CONCLUSION

APPENDIX A

APPENDIX B

INTRODUCTION

In January 2005, during an interview with The Washington Times regarding the war in Iraq and recent transformations within the Army, President Bush stated: "There's no change of policy as far as I'm concerned. No women in combat." (1) Technically, the policy has not changed, but in reality, the nation's policy has not survived contact with the enemy. As Commander-in-Chief, the President has engaged military power in the war against terrorism on a global scale, and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have engulfed both men and women in combat.

Operations ENDURING FREEDOM (Afghanistan) and IRAQI FREEDOM (Iraq) are the first major combat operations since hundreds of thousands of new positions in the military were opened to women in the 1990s. Women have deployed and fought as fighter, bomber, attack, and helicopter pilots in all the services, in ground combat support positions, and aboard combat and support Navy and Coast Guard vessels. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), in May 2006, 10,100 women were deployed to Iraq, and 1900 women were deployed to Afghanistan, constituting eight percent of the total force. (2) In total, over 155,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. (3)

American women have fought and served in every U.S. war, beginning with the Revolutionary War. Today, there are over 198,000 women in the active duty military, constituting 14.5% of the active force. (4) Women are integral members of the armed forces, serving as Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, and they are here to stay. Yet despite women's accomplishments throughout history, and most recently in the War on Terror, DoD policy still prohibits women from serving in approximately 200,000 positions in the military. (5)

In this Article, I will answer the following question: "Should women continue to be prohibited from serving in 'ground combat' units based only on their gender?" The answer I provide begins by placing today's policy into context, summarizing the major laws and policies related to women in the military, and reviewing the history of the expanding roles of women in the military. …

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