Why Not?

Two United States nurses in WWII carry heavy combat packs on a eight-mile hike through the jungle of the India-Burma border area as part of their training before front-line war assignments. Before reporting for duty the American nurses learn how to combat jungle hazards and how to care for themselves and their patients under all conditions.

The reality is that there is absolutely no intelligent, logical, sensible reason for women not to be in combat roles with the technological style of warfare that abounds today.

There are political, patriarchal, religious, and misogynistically stupid reasons to preclude women but they all belong in The Museum of Natural Idiocy next to chastity belts, urban legends, homophobia, promise creepers, senile senators, proselytizing preachers, and military machismo. The antiquated concepts that fill the closed minds of the "brotherhood of the sword", - the military establishment - with its tailhook mentality and its martenetistic attitude - have created a brain-lock that has polluted everything from the Congress to the media.

First they squawk and squeal about the strength issue - well that was disproved years ago by several studies including these:

Army researchers came up with a new study that concludes that, when a woman is correctly. trained, she can be as tough as any man. The report by the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine at Natick, MA was led by senior analyst Everett Harman. "You don't need testosterone to get strong," Harman concluded. Through a regimen of regular jogging, weight training, and other rigorous exercise, more that 75 percent of the 41 women studied were able to prepare themselves to successfully perform duties traditionally performed by males in the military. Before training, less than 25 percent of the women were capable of performing the tasks. All but one of the females were civilian volunteers, and none had previously adopted a routine of strenuous physical activity. The women included lawyers, mothers, students, and bartenders. Several had recently had children and thought the training would put them back in shape. They were unaware that their performance might eventually be used to topple one of the last citadels of bias against women in both the military and society. The 24-week training study began in May 1995 with women spending 90 minutes a day, five days a week, building themselves up for endurance tests. They ran a two-mile wooded course wearing a 75-pound rucksack and performed squats holding a 100-pound barbell on their shoulders. Nationally certified trainers oversaw the conditioning. Improvement of over 33 percent was noted by the scientists who wrote the report.Nearly concurrently with this test, the Ministry of Defence in Great Britain conducted the same kind of study. The Sunday Times of London reported that "by using new methods of physical training, women can be built up to the same levels of physical fitness as men of the same size and build." The British article also notes that "contrary to the view of many traditionalists, the operational performance of groups improve greatly if both sexes are involved."

Second they fall back on the old "unit cohesion", "male bonding" , and "good order" balderdash that is left over from the Roman Legions. It's rather like saying that women can't play major league baseball because they can't spit, scratch and rearrange their cod pieces as well as the boys - regardless of whether or not they can throw a baseball from left field to third base. Units comprised of women and men have bonded, cohesed, and maintained good order for centuries - or did they have separate sex wagon trains pioneering the west? Military units of mixed sexes have quietly maintained order, accomplished missions, and passed operational readiness inspections with flying colors. They're too busy doing their jobs to worry about who uses which latrine. Desert Storm is a classic example of mixed units performing as cohesive and effective teams even under fire.

Third there's the "killing thing" - women can't do it - say the brain atrophied leaders and policy makers. My honest opinion is that it is not necessarily a male-female thing even though society portrays it that way. I have known some pretty weak men who wouldn't protect the back of their own mother in a crisis or combat situation and some strong women who would go to the wall for a total stranger in the trenches - and vice versa. Many women are excellent shots with pistol, carbine and automatic weapons, many men can't hit a cow with a target painted on it. Women pilots can handle some jet fighters better than men and male pilots can handle heavy bombers slightly better -and women can "pull G's" better than men.
But when it comes to the trenches, fox holes, covert operations, guerilla warfare, etc. I think it takes a particular personality type - almost on the edge of a pathological one - to even want to become a trained killer. This can have appeal for both men and women, but hopefully very few of either sex.

The answer to the "men only want to protect women" spiel is in a great quote by Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient - "You men are not our protectors... If you were, who would there be to protect us from?"

Many of these points are rather moot given the technological nature of future wars - little will be done hand to hand and a lot will be done in the realm of virtual reality, computer and satellites and probably robotics. The direct ground combat - gut slitting, bayonet stabbing, and grenade tossing - will be minimal - and if each branch of service wants to maintain it's own little group of cutthroats then let it be an equal opportunity band - I seriously doubt that too many women will apply. - and of course the religious right, the aging suits in congress and the anti choicers will hue and cry so loud it will never happen.
Meantime, if there is another conflict, I think the one with the most electronic toys will win. We all know either sex can handle computers, pilot roles, VRML, Virtual Reality, multimedia, Mars sojourners, satellite tracking, robotics, unmanned aircraft, unmanned tanks, and ships, and computerized combat software. And believe me all of this and more is already in the works -" The Ultimate Warrior" for example.

Today, over 200,000 women serve in the armed forces, comprising more than 17 percent of the total force. About 80 percent of the jobs and more than 90 percent of the career fields are open to women. Sadly women still face barriers. This should not be. Nor should it be a religious, political, gender based, protective, feminist, emotional, rhetorical issue.

The pure and simple point is that all jobs should be open to women and men - if and only if - the women and men are qualified, capable, competent, and able to perform them! Nothing more, nothing less.

rifle shooter

Recent policy changes on women in combat:


The Defense Authorization Act repealed the long-standing combat exclusion law for women pilots in the Navy and Air Force.


President Clinton signed the military bill ending combat exclusion for women on combatant ships.


Defense Secretary Aspin approved a new general policy to allow Army women to serve with some ground combat units during fighting.

The USS EISENHOWER, a Navy combat aircraft carrier, received its first 60 women.


The initial embarkation of women on combat ships during FY94 included eight ships. Two of those eight were aircraft carriers, four were destroyers and two were dock landing ships. The accelerated integration plan called for assigning women to a variety of ships including cruisers, amphibious assault ships and all pre-commissioning Arleigh Burke-class destroyers completed in FY96.

Female officers are eligible to serve in all of the Navy's officer communities except submarines (policy currently under review) and special warfare (SEALs). Thus, women can occupy 93.5 percent of the officer billets in the Navy. Enlisted women are eligible to serve in 97 percent of career fields (91 of 94 job classifications). Women are eligible to serve in 95.1 percent of the enlisted billets in the Navy.

A total of 283 female Naval officers serve as pilots (206) and Naval Flight Officers (77). In addition, there are about 127 women in training to fly combat aircraft. 54 women have already reported to combat aviation squadrons. (pre-1999 figures)

Women are now aboard combatant ships, thousands of enlisted women and officers are "serving at sea", and ten Navy women now command ships.

In the Army women cannot serve in the following: infantry, armor, cannon field artillery and short range air defense artillery.**

**But there's a twist here that literally allowed women to fly under fire in Panama in 1989. Although federal law mandated that the Navy and Air Force prohibit women from serving in direct combat roles, no such law bound the Army to do so. Instead, the Army used its combat exclusion policy to regulate itself to conform to the intent of the federal laws that affected the other services. Thus, the Army's combat exclusion policy limited women from direct combat. That policy defined direct combat as "engaging an enemy with individual or crew-served weapons while being exposed to direct enemy fire, a high probability of direct physical contact with the enemy's personnel, and a substantial risk of capture." According to the Army, "Direct combat takes place while closing with the enemy by fire, maneuver, or shock effect in order to destroy or capture, or while repelling assault by fire, close combat or counterattack." The helicopters piloted by women were considered transport and not combat, thus the "non-violation" of the then in effect combat exclusion laws.

In the Navy women are excluded from Submarine Warfare, Special Warfare (SEAL) and ratings particular to submarine service such as fire control technician, missile technician, and one aspect of sonar technician. Women can be sonar technicians...they just cannot serve in the submarine component of the rating.

The Marine Corps assignments closed to women are infantry, armor, field artillery, security force guard protecting nuclear material, and several positions related to armored, amphibious, assaultunits and fleet antiterrorism security teams.

Air Force positions closed or restricted are Combat Control, Special Operations Forces, Rotary Aircraft, TAC Pararescue, and Weather assignments with infantry or Special Forces.

All Coast Guard occupations and assignments are open to women.

And yes women are serving proudly in Operation Iraqui Freedom - in, around, and near hostile territory.

Yes, we've had casualties, prisoners, and injuries - both men and women.

But now is not the time to advocate removing women from certain roles in the military nor is it the time to use the issue of casualties and prisoners to decry allowing women to serve in combat roles - attacking military women with invidious caterwauling .

There is really nothing to debate - women are in combat roles, in harm's way, and they are doing their jobs. Let's just get used to it and realize it's not the Girl Scouts it's the Armed Forces.

Women are serving proudly, living up to the oath that they took to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic..."

Regression for military women is not an option in the 21st Century!!!

**Granted I've never been in front line combat but then neither have seventy percent of the men in the military. In my 22 years of active duty I have however - survived two military plane crashes; rescued a sergeant from drowning ; helped remove dead bodies from the flight line after an RB-47 crash; disarmed a knife-wielding troop in a barracks brawl; disabled and removed a would-be rapist from my squadron's barracks; thwarted two bloody suicide attempts; and performed many casualty and mortuary duties too gruesome to mention.

And ponder this for a moment -
In the United States there are four thousand - yes 4,000 - female homicides a year!!
An average of 1200 are a result of domestic violence!!
My point? - simply this - military women can fight back!!

For an interesting point of view read Response to Newt

For the "skinny" from the Rand Corporation on women in key jobs, check out
Military Readiness - Women Are Not A Problem

For More and for Myths, Urban Legends and Fallacies about Military Women see also:
Falderol and Idiotic Rumors and Not the Final Answer and 21st Century Combat

And my latest rant - - Stop the caterwauling!!

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Unless otherwise noted contents © 1996-2005 by Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret)