Pentagon move will send women into direct combat

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 25, 2013

image633(by Kristina Wong, The Washington Times) –  The Pentagon is lifting its ban on women serving in combat and will begin allowing female service members to hold any jobs for which they qualify, including special operations, over the next few years, according to a memo from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

“The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey says in the memo, dated Jan. 9. The Washington Times obtained a copy of the memo.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously join me in proposing that we move forward with the full intent to integrate women into occupational fields to the maximum extent possible,” Gen. Dempsey wrote. “To implement these initiatives successfully and without sacrificing our war-fighting capability or the trust of the American people, we need time to get it right.”

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff, said his service will open to women its seven career fields that currently are closed to them — all in special operations.

“We fully support the removal of the exclusion. We just need to move forward,” Gen. Welsh told The Times. “We’ve got to figure out how to get it done, and if there is some career field where it ends up being impossible for reasons that everybody can understand, then we can request an exemption.”

The Pentagon has [always] banned women from serving in the infantry, special operations forces and other units that would put them in direct combat situations.

Advocates for placing women in combat roles have said female service members have proved themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critics have argued that women on average are not physically built for ground combat and that placing them in combat would hurt cohesion in all-male units.

In February, the Defense Department partially lifted the ban to allow women to serve in units below the brigade level and closer to potential battlefields. As a result, 14,325 positions – mostly in the Army – were opened to females.

The Dempsey memo calling for the full lifting of the ban was released after four women filed a lawsuit in November against the Defense Department, saying the ban is unconstitutional and has hurt their military careers. Female troops account for about 14.5 percent of the 1.4 million-member active-duty force.

Strong reactions

The policy change evoked a variety of reactions from Capitol Hill.

Sen. Carl M. Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed the lifting of the ban.

“I support it,” Mr. Levin said. “It reflects the reality of 21st-century military operations.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a former Marine officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, expressed skepticism about the change.

“The focus of our military needs to be maximizing combat effectiveness,” Mr. Hunter said. “The question here is whether this change will actually make our military better at operating in combat and killing the enemy, since that will be their job, too.

“What needs to be explained is how this decision, when all is said and done, increases combat effectiveness rather than being a move done for political purposes — which is what this looks like. The idea that every combat mission and future conflict will mirror Iraq and Afghanistan is extremely naive and shortsighted,” he said.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat and a former Army lieutenant who served in Iraq, hailed the Pentagon’s move.

“Today is a historic day for not only women currently serving in our armed forces, but for all of the women who have selflessly put their lives on the line in theaters of war throughout our nation’s history,” Ms. Gabbard said. “This decision by the Department of Defense is an overdue yet welcome change, which I strongly support.”

Advocacy groups also assessed the Pentagon’s change.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said the move is premature and lacks empirical justification.

“Secretary Panetta on his way out the door is imposing huge burdens on the infantry that will affect morale and readiness,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “Thirty years of research, reports and studies … indicate that this is not a good idea. It will indeed complicate life in the infantry and make life more dangerous.”

But Ariel Migdal, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the women who have sued the Pentagon, said the ban was constraining commanders in the field and limiting the military’s ability to recruit and retain the most qualified women.

“Does this mean of the 238,000 positions that are now closed to women – will they be able to compete for those?” Ms. Migdal said.

Guiding principles

Two years ago, Congress ordered a review of the Pentagon’s policies on women in combat, spurred by reports of heroism by female troops in Afghanistan and Iraq – wars that often featured no clearly defined front lines.

Of the more than 8,000 U.S. military personnel who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, at least 152 are women.

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission, a group of civilians and active-duty and retired military members, recommended to President Obama in 2011 that he remove all job barriers for women.

The Dempsey memo states …”This deliberate approach to reducing gender-based barriers to women’s service will provide the time necessary to institutionalize these important changes and to integrate women into occupational fields in a climate where they can succeed and flourish. Ultimately, we will ensure the success of our military forces and maintain the trust of the American people,” the memo states.

Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC.   From the Associated Press.  Reprinted from the Washington Times for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at


1.  What changes is the Pentagon making to women’s roles in the military?

2.  What exceptions will be made to this new policy?

3.  What did the ban in place stipulate about women’s roles in the military?

4.  Why did the Pentagon make the change in policy?

5.  a)  What reasons do advocates have for supporting a policy which allows women to serve in any area of the military they qualify for?
b)  What arguments do critics make for opposing women in combat roles?

6.  Compare Democratic and Republican lawmakers’ responses to the Pentagon’s new policy (paragraphs 11-18).  With whom do you agree?  Why?

7.  Review the guiding principals General Dempsey used for making the policy change on women in combat (found under “Background” below the questions). Will this new policy under these guidelines make the military more effective in combat situations?  Explain your answer.

8.  This is a controversial issue, and an extreme change in the way we fight wars. Consider the following and answer at least two:

  • Is the policy of banning women from combat roles solely an issue of equal opportunity/denying women the same opportunities men have?
  • It is discriminatory to prohibit women from taking part in combat?
  • Should only women who WANT to go into combat be sent?  (Is it fair that women can choose, but men have no choice?)
  • What adverse effects, if any, do you think opening combat roles to women will have on male soldiers?
  • Could a squadron of all female soldiers be an asset or detriment in fighting in Muslim countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, possibly Pakistan or North Africa)?
  • What problems are associated with women in combat roles?
  • Are there some jobs women shouldn’t do? (combat soldier, firefighter, boxer, etc.)?  Why or why not?
  • If a woman qualifies to compete against a man, should the Boxing Association permit fights between a male and female boxer?  How about Ultimate Fighting or Wrestling?  Should a woman excluded from certain opportunities just because she’s a woman?  Or is there more to it than that?
  • Should the fact that many of our enemies are terrorists who come from cultures where women are not considered as equal to men and do not adhere to the Geneva Convention for treatment of prisoners have any bearing on the decision to send women directly into combat?

CHALLENGE QUESTION:  Read the following.  Do you agree with Mr. Johnson’s opinion?  Explain your answer.

In an email to The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, Kenneth Johnson argues that putting women in combat is a bad idea.  He writes:

As a Marine Corps veteran of three combat tours, the first as a rifle platoon commander during the Vietnam War, my concern is what this policy will contribute to further breaking down the already-troubled relationships of men and women in our society.

Friedrich von Hayek wrote that profound social knowledge is embedded in tradition that has evolved through the millennia of human experience. In “The Fatal Conceit,” he taught that a society breaks these traditions just because someone has a “good idea” of what would be fair. When these notions are enacted through legislation and court decisions, there is a very real risk of wasting this profound knowledge.

In my view, traditions in the military and civil society are severely broken and the embedded wisdom lost forever where women have combat roles. Totally independent of whether women can physically and mentally contribute to American military effectiveness and efficiency, I am concerned about the broader social implications of a civilization that believes that combat is an appropriate role for women.

For the record, I have ordered men to undertake missions where the entire platoon was at risk. During Operation Dewey Canyon in 1969 (the real one, not the incoming secretary of defense’s one), I lost all seven of the Marine casualties I had during my tour. One died five feet from me. We moved on. Others died moments before I got to their position. We moved on. After one firefight, we carried a gut-shot Navy corpsman, who knew how much trouble he was in, for miles up a steep hill out of Laos.

How does a man not give special comfort to a wounded woman? My last Marine died in my arms from a wound I thought he would have survived. Could I have held her in my arms without reservation?

I had to decide how to handle the situation where a new squad leader beat a Marine who fell asleep on watch, the latter punishable by death in time of war. The decision process I went through is captured in a speech I gave to the Valley Forge Military Academy almost a year ago.

My concerns:

What kind of a man is it who can send women off to kill and maim? What kind of society does that?

What kind of men sharing a fire-team foxhole with a woman and two other men don’t treat the woman more gently?

What kind of society bemoaning that men don’t seem to respect women can’t see that part of the respect they demand is predicated on the specialness of the other?

Perhaps it is possible in a firefight to distinguish between how one treats women and men, but I doubt that I could do it. And if I am trained to treat men and women the same throughout my career, can this have no significant effect on how I treat women otherwise?

Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a daily email with answers.


Titled “Women in the Service Implementation Plan,” the Dempsey memo outlines the steps the armed services intend to take to put women in combat jobs:

  • The services will expand the number of units and the number of women assigned to those units that were opened to them last year, and provide periodic progress reports each quarter beginning in the third quarter of fiscal 2013.
  • The services will “develop, review and validate” job standards, and gender-neutral job standards will be used no later than September.
  • The services and U.S. Special Operations Command will “proceed in a deliberate, measured and responsible way” to assign women to jobs that are closed to them as physical standards and operational assessments are met. The services and SOCOM must complete all studies by the first quarter of 2016.
  • The Navy will continue to assign women to ships as changes to allow female privacy and berthing, female leadership assignments and ship schedules permit.

However, the memo also states: “If we find that the assignment of women to a specific position or occupational specialty is in conflict with our stated principles, we will request an exception to the policy.” (from the Washington Times article)

  • The Dempsey memo states that the Pentagon’s “guiding principles” in the policy change are:

    • Ensuring the success of U.S. troops by “preserving unit readiness, cohesion and morale.”
    • Ensuring all service members are “given the opportunity to succeed and are set up for success with viable career paths.”
    • Retaining the trust of the American people by “promoting policies that maintain the best quality and most qualified people.”
    • Certifying performance standards, both physical and mental, for all military jobs.
    • Ensuring that enough female leaders “are assigned to commands at the point of introduction to ensure success in the long run.”

    The memo notes that the Defense Department may need to adjust its recruitments and assignments. (from the Washington Times article)