I should clarify right away that the title is a bit misleading, since it implies that women haven’t already been in combat, but hopefully you can forgive that inaccuracy since headlines aren’t the best forum for nuanced discussion. What will be changing are some Army policies on exactly with what types of units women can serve.
Over the past decade, some 135,000 women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those at least 77 have been killed in action and another 853 wounded in action. Over 400 have earned awards for valor, including two Silver Stars, the third-highest decoration for valor. So clearly, regardless of what some words on paper may say, women have already been in combat.
The first change—which will take effect on 14 May—affects a rule that dates from 1994 and resulted from Army experiences in the Persian Gulf War. That rule barred female soldiers from serving in combat units below the brigade level, assigning a direct combat probability code to each position (paragraph and line number on the modified table of organization and equipment, or MTOE) in a unit. The result was that a military occupational specialty (MOS) position that might otherwise be open to a female, such as medic or supply specialist, was barred to her if the position happened to be in (for example) an infantry battalion or armor company.
This experimental policy change will open such positions in 37 battalions across nine active-duty brigade combat teams (BCTs) to women. Enlisted specialties affected include human resources, supply, intelligence, chemical warfare, medical, and communications MOSs; for officers, who have a functional area rather than an MOS, the list includes intelligence, communications, medical, supply, chemical warfare, fire support, adjutant general, and chaplain billets.
Another policy change eliminates a ban on “co-location” of women with units routinely involved in combat operations. That change will open six MOSs—three in field artillery and three in maintenance for Abrams tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery—to females in about 80 units.
The test program will place females in a variety of infantry, heavy, and Stryker brigades to account for the cultural differences in the various types of units. The BCTs involved are three from the 1st Cavalry Division, one from the 4th Infantry Division, one from the 1st Infantry Division, one from the 10th Mountain Division, two from the 25th Infantry Division, and one from the 101st Airborne Division.
The inability of women to hold “combat command” positions as officers has long been criticized as an impediment to their advancement into the general officer ranks. Today the Army has only one female general (four stars)—Ann E. Dunwoody, who has been profiled here on Milpages—and four lieutenant generals (three stars). BG Laura Richardson was tapped in March to become the first woman to hold a combat command position when she was selected as Deputy Commanding General—Support for the 1st Cavalry Division.
The Army’s policy trial will run until November, at which time the service will report to the secretary of defense on the results.