By Cassie Greenwald
Women in combat are not a new phenomenon. Historically, there have been a few women in combat roles. During World War II, there were an estimated half-million women serving on anti-aircraft batteries in Britain. In Germany, women served as partisans in German-occupied Ukraine, and directly on the front lines. Soviet women were also deployed as snipers against the Nazi Wehrmacht, but most of their names have been forgotten. There are some countries that have already had women in combat, such as Israel, Germany and Canada. “They’ve done very, very well in Afghanistan, which is really Canada’s first time having women in the infantry” (Neuman, 2013).
Women today make up about 15 percent of the military (about 203,000 troops). Since 2001, more than 280,000 women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. This has helped to alleviate some of the concern surrounding women in combat roles. Women soldiers are held to the same standards as men. “For example, to be a pilot, your femur has to be a certain length, you have to have a certain sitting height. Those are the occupational standards, and any woman going into any job has got to meet those in the exact same way as a male does” (Neuman, 2013). West Point requires cadets to pass an indoor obstacle course that tests agility, stamina and strength. The obstacle course is designed to determine whether future soldiers will be able to meet the demands of combat. Freshman Cadet Madaline Kenyon completed this course in 2 minutes and 26 seconds. This score is equivalent to an A-plus of the men’s scale.
Opponents argue that the military’s physical standards should not be compromised in order to include women. The fighting effectiveness of the United States depends upon soldiers being able to walk 20 miles while carrying 50 pounds of equipment. Women entering the ranks of special forces, such as Navy SEALs, and the Army’s Special Forces will prove challenging. “Beyond the grueling physical requirements, the effect of integrating small units with women has caused concern. There is resistance among some troops who operate behind enemy lines or for long periods in austere environments, according to a senior officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue”(Brook, 2014). It is argued that women lack the ‘killer instinct’ that is needed to serve in frontline combat. Troops must make the decision to kill or be killed, and this requires ferocity, aggression, and a killer instinct believed to not be a typically female trait.
The diversity of having both men and women in groups has proven beneficial. The data has shown that the more women, the better. Studies from Harvard Business School and MIT show that the group intelligence of an organization increases when women are part of teams. “Women bring a unique level of “social sensitivity,” the ability to read the emotions of other people. On today’s complex battlefields, social sensitivity is a crucial skill for military professionals” (Denn, 2014). Examining the role of women in combat requires one to think critically beyond physical requirements. War is not only physically taxing, but psychologically challenging as well.
Sexual harassment and assault continues to be prevalent in the military. Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment have life-long effects on service members, as well as their families. It is believed that sexual violence also threatens the strength and moral of the United States military, which has the potential to undermine national security. Sexual harassment and assault increases during deployment. One possible explanation for this is that women find themselves in more of a male-dominated environment. A study found that deployed women exposed to combat-like experiences reported a 20 percent incident rate of sexual harassment and a 4 percent rate of sexual assault during the three-year follow-up after completing the first questionnaire. Combat-like experience is defined as women who have witnessed at least one of the following: death, physical abuse, dead or decomposing bodies, maimed soldiers or civilians, or prisoners of war.
The highest-ranking military officer in the United States believes that lifting the ban on women in combat positions will decrease the rate of sexual assault. Gen. Martine E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff states that, “When you have one part of the population that is designated as ‘warriors’ and one part that is designated as something else, that disparity begins to establish a psychology that — in some cases — led to that environment [of sexual assault]. I have to believe the more we treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally” (Rosenthal, 2013). Excluding women from combat roles relegates them to second-class status among other members.
The organization Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) monitors the armed services to ensure that women are being integrated fairly into previously off-limit assignments. It serves to maximize the strength of our military by allowing women to serve in every assignment or job in the military. In January 2013, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered Joint Chiefs of Staff to study the possibility of opening all military jobs to women by 2016. This would open up 200,000 jobs that make up the core of the ground-level combat force of the Army and Marine Corps. Women serving in ground-level combat allows the glass ceiling to finally break and provides women with the opportunity to advance to the same level as their male counterparts.
Brook, T. (2014, November 20). Women moving closer to combat’s front lines. Retrieved March 30, 2015.
Denn, W. (2014, April 3). Women in combat roles would strengthen the military. Retrieved March 30, 2015.
Neuman, S. (2013, January 13). Around The Globe, Women Already Serve In Combat Units. Retrieved March 30, 2015.
Rosenthal, L. (2013, June 6). 5 Myths About Military Sexual Assault. Retrieved March 30, 2015.