Women in Combat: Issues for Congress

The (Mostly) Good News on Women in Combat
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The results of the study were fairly damning, illustrating that in 93 out of tasks tested, all-male groups outperformed gender-integrated groups.

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Women in Combat: Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service. Summary. Over the past two decades of conflict, women have. CRS Report for Congress. Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress. Women in Combat: Issues for Congress. David F. Burrelli.

The report also found women had an increased risk for serious injuries, often stress fractures sustained through heavy load-bearing exercise. While previous research concluded that the integration of women had little effect on readiness or unit cohesion , Marine Corps leaders have cited their study to argue that it is up to women to prove themselves against existing standards. The Corps is currently made up of 8 percent women and aiming to grow to 10 percent, but is struggling with recruitment generally, including for combat arms. There are currently 92 women serving in Marine combat arms billets, though only 11 are in infantry roles.

Women have argued for the CET to be recognized as an initiation rite rather than an occupational standard, arguing it does not serve as a Corps-wide test for combat readiness but rather a one-time test with a low attrition rate for men.

National Defense Authorization Act: Selected Military Personnel Issues

The Marine Corps is also the only service which has kept basic training segregated by gender. LtCol Kate Germano Ret.

The first gender integrated class graduated the second week of April. The Navy and Air Force are further removed from infantry and direct combat, and both services have been more flexible regarding the assignment of women. Historically the services have higher numbers of women, but also have fewer combat and infantry jobs. The Air Force, for example, had allowed women to serve in nearly all roles except special operations. Earlier this year in a House Armed Service Committee hearing , Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson emphasized the role of women as natural protectors and the need to change the national conversation about military service.

The Navy has been uniquely able to place women on combat ships since when Congress removed the law precluding women from serving in any combat unit or occupational specialty. Subsequently, the DoD established the Direct Ground Combat and Assignment Rule which limited women from being assigned to units below the brigade level where the primary mission was to engage in direct ground combat. Due to the size and missions of the fleet, women have been able to serve in a variety of roles in the Navy, allowing them to pursue careers that qualify them to fill senior billets and potentially take command on carriers.

The rule offered more flexibility for the Navy; due to the size and missions of the fleet, women have been able to serve in a variety of roles in the Navy, allowing them to pursue careers that qualify them to fill senior billets and potentially take command on carriers. Gender, however, presents a unique hurdle for the Navy because the service historically has not had separate bunks and accommodations for junior enlisted women on ships.

The solution has been to assign women to units in pairs, which means they subsequently leave in pairs, creating assignment and stability constraints for the units. Submarines have been the primary sticking point for the Navy due to concerns over space, privacy in close quarters, and prolonged rotations at sea; however, women have served on submarines since One-fifth of submarine crews are integrated, and female officers are now reaching the same retention rate as male officers.

Special Operations Forces SOF constitute an area where women have largely been unsuccessful in meeting the bar for entry. For example, no woman has made it through SEAL selection, although the Navy recruited two women for the training in Typically, 73 to 75 percent of all SEAL candidates fail to make the cut. In the Air Force, five female officers have been accepted into the pipeline for Tactical Air Control Party TACP specialists, who coordinate air support for special operators, though none have yet completed the training.

Combat Integration Initiative (CII)

The Army has experienced similar results. Last January, however, a female officer passed the rigorous selection to join the 75th Ranger Regiment, making her the first women to join a special operations unit. Congress , the media , and some of the military services , featuring some legitimate concerns but also significant misconceptions and biases about the ability of women to serve in combat roles. Within the services specifically, a recent study by the National Defense University showed that there are still significant gender biases among male service members regarding the abilities of women to serve.

In addition, opposition to female integration often persists where junior enlisted personnel and officers perceive preferential treatment.

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In addition, any modifications to performance standards can create the perception that women are not meeting the same expectations as their male counterparts. Rather than putting the burden solely on female recruits to perform well in combat units, there is much the services can do to support the integration of women. As a result, military leaders often seek to strike a tone of support for women while upholding existing standards.

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For example, women have unofficially served in combat throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many male colleagues have voiced their support for women after observing their competence and dedication to the job. Many commanding officers also recognize the commitment of female service members to the mission, citing the successes of Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan and other achievements of women in combat.

This support can include an increased focus on career development — including mentorship — and an effort to achieve a critical mass of female personnel within combat units.


By achieving a critical mass, the military can build a network of female service members within units to contribute to consistent command climates and positive unit cohesion, and to provide support and address concerns in the case of sexual harassment or assault. However, the services will face the long-term hurdle of retaining women in all career fields, but especially in combat arms roles.

Even with this approach, women will remain a minority in combat units and need effective professional mentorship and support from male colleagues and superiors as well.

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  • Citation Information!

Regardless of these challenges, the integration of women continues to be the official policy of the DoD. Across the services, the military leaders have made modest but noteworthy and sometimes imbalanced successes in integrating women, and more importantly in laying the groundwork for a future of integrated military service.

This most recent policy change followed extensive studies that were completed by the military departments and by the Special Operations Command SOCOM on issues such as unit cohesion, women's health, equipment, facilities modifications, propensity to serve, and international experiences with women in combat. This report starts with background on women's service in the United States Armed Forces and associated changes to law and policy regarding women's roles.

The next section discusses more recent changes that have resulted in the removal of all restrictions on women's service in combat roles. Finally, this report will address oversight issues for Congress as DOD implements new policy changes.

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This report looks at the history of women in US military roles and combat since the s and discusses critics' views of exclusionary policy as a civil rights issue. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. It is possible for Rostker v. Women had already been admitted to the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Academies by administrative action. The Army is also taking steps to adjust its policies to further enable the integration.

Kamarck, Kristy N. Library of Congress.