There has been a long-standing debate about whether or not women should be allowed to serve in combat units of the armed forces. A current poll online at www.world-news.com showed that 50.3% of participates voted “Yes, create a level playing field for all qualified service members”, while 45.6 said no, and 4.1 percent were unsure. Recently a military advisory commission, consisting of current and retired military officers, has come together to recommend that the Pentagon do away with the policy that prohibits them from being allowed to do so; hence the pot is being stirred up again.
For many years, women have been allowed to serve the country, but more in support roles, such as medics, logistics, transportation, and etc. The policy stands that women are not allowed to be assigned to a unit “smaller than a brigade whose primary mission is direct combat on the ground”. Recently a panel met to put finishing touches on a report to recommend the elimination of this policy in order to create a level playing field for ALL service members. This change would be one of the biggest “social” changes since last year when changes were made to allow gay and lesbian members to serve openly and the change to permit women in the Navy to serve on submarines for the first time.
One of the main arguments for this policy change is that it prevents around 10 percent of woman in the Army and the Marine Corps from being able to participate in specialties, which in turn prevents them from promotions and advancement. Proponents see it only fair to allow women the same opportunity as their male counterparts. Another main argument is that these women are still considered a minority and the elimination of this policy would promote diversity. The report states, “The Armed Forces have not yet succeeded in developing leaders who are as diverse as the nation they serve. Minorities and women still lag behind white men in terms of number of military leadership positions.” Women currently make up about 14 percent of the military. Supporters argue the case that bringing minorities into leadership roles will help the units become more effective.
The main concern of the opponents of the policy change is that they do not believe that women have the strength and stamina to take on the hardship of combat. Men and women have to pass certain physical tests in training for the Armed Forces. They only have to meet a minimum standard. For example, 18 year old male needs to do a minimum of 42 pushups in two minutes, 71 sit-ups in two minutes, and run 2 miles in 15:54, but for an 18-year-old woman the standards are lower. She has to do 28 push-ups, 71 sit-ups, and run 2 miles in 18:54. This is one of the arguments used to show that women are physically different than men, and not as strong. The idea behind the physical training tests is that this is the MINIMUM strength and endurance any soldier needs to survive in combat. Is combat supposed to be easier for women than men? It should not be, so why are their standards lower?
Another argument is that this change will make cohesion in the units fall apart. This was one of the arguments on letting gays into the Armed Forces, as well. Many say that mixing men and women in a high stress environment will create more distraction, misconduct, an emotionally volatile environment, more physical injury, less discipline, lower standards, additional stress on instructors and recruits, and scandal. However, the new report coming out, states that there is little evidence to show that introducing women to the units breaks up cohesion. A study run by the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services actually found that most participants in the study groups had a positive impact on mission accomplishment.
A final argument against the change is that Americans will not be able to stand watching the increasing numbers of women come home in body bags. There is quite a significant difference now in the number of losses between men and women. In the Iraq War as of January 3, 2011, only 110 women have been killed as compared to 4,300 men. In the Afghan campaign, 24 women have been killed while over 1,400 men have been killed.
Women and men are different physically and psychologically. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the fact is that there is a difference. There are many differences of opinion on this matter because of this reality. Some people believe that even though there are women who can beat a man in any strength or endurance test, that they are the exception, and not the rule, therefore women should not be allowed in combat. However, then there are those who argue that if women can handle childbirth they can handle any kind of combat. After all, women have been known to have a higher pain threshold. Maybe the solution is to make all of the physical testing the same for each gender? Then the physical differences would become less of an issue.
Who knows if this policy will be changed or not, but many top defense leaders say that they do see a change coming someday. Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, said they he expects women to serve in special operations units, such as stealth missions. He also said that he believes they will eventually be allowed to work on special operations forces. The new report recommends that women we phased in, allowing women working in specialties already to be assigned immediately to a unit that requires their expertise. Regardless of what happens with this policy it is important to remember that women in the military make incredible contributions already, and will continue to do so.