Military Women: All Guts, No Glory
It’s time for the U.S. military to recognize women in combat
Military women today constitute almost one-sixth of the armed forces, yet their efforts are seldom recognized.
Captain Dawn Halfaker saw a flash of light and heard an explosion—then suffered shrapnel wounds, a 12-day coma, and the amputation of her right arm.
Sergeant Rebekah Havrilla collected the remains of a suicide bomber and his victims from a room where blood ran down the walls—then endured years of nightmares.
Private First Class Lori Piestewa was ambushed by insurgents, who killed three of the passengers in her Humvee—then was taken captive and died of her head wounds.
If you ask the U.S. military, none of these women officially served in battle. That’s because females in the armed forces don’t technically fight in ground combat. But the Department of Defense (DOD) policy belies the reality of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its willful avoidance of the truth denies military women safety training, health care, and career advancement.
“It’s time to give servicewomen the recognition they deserve,” says Brigadier General Evelyn Foote, president emerita of the Alliance for National Defense in Alexandria, Virginia. “Let’s join the 21st century and shed this exclusionary policy.”
Military women today constitute almost one-sixth of the armed forces, but for most of its history, the U.S. military kept women out of battle, relegating them to support positions such as nursing. Although more than 80 percent of military jobs are now open to women, the DOD moved in 1994 to ban women from serving in “combat operations” such as the short-range field artillery, Special Forces, and infantry.
Is there a good reason for these bans? Not according to a 1997 report conducted by the Rand Corporation, which found that full gender integration in the armed services would have little effect on “readiness, cohesion, and morale.” And both the Military Leadership Diversity Commission and the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services have urged the DOD to lift the combat ban.
Modern military conflicts put every soldier, male or female, directly in the line of fire. For instance, according to Patricia Hayes, national director of women’s health for the Veterans Health Administration, one of the most dangerous jobs in the military today is driving a truck—a position that many women hold.
“The issue of women in battle is coming to a head now because there’s no demarcation between combat and non-combat in the Middle East,” says former U.S. Representative Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), who served on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee from 1973 to 1996. “As it stands, there no longer is an official front line.”
Today, women represent 15 percent of the active military, 18 percent of the reserve, and 20 percent of all new recruits. With so many women in service (and with submarine assignments just opened to women in 2010), the DOD may no longer be able to keep arguing that it can legally bar women from certain jobs. “Everyone in uniform is in combat,” says Representative Susan Davis (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel. “Yet women in uniform are not afforded the proper training for combat since they are technically barred from engaging the enemy this way.”
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