In the early 20th century feminism and the formation of the suffragettes swept across the nation giving more right to women. With more freedom women began serving in the U. S. military. Women started serving in the army as nurses as early as 1901 and soon the navy followed suit in 1908. During WWII, women’s roles in the military expanded as congress approved the Women’s Army Corps in 1942 (Bell). The roles of women in the military had started to open up especially with the ratification of the Equal Right Amendment.
In January of 2013, the Secretary of Defense lifted the ban on women in combat, allowing women to apply for infantry and front-line units starting in 2016. Because of the extreme conditions placed on combat personnel, some have debated for and against the inclusion of women in combat units and whether they can handle the physical and emotional stress from the environment and from the men in the units. This leads to the question: should women be allowed in combat units?
In 1994 the Pentagon placed a ban restricting women from artillery, armor, infantry and other combat roles, but nonetheless women have served alongside with combat units, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan where the front-line is blurred and every unit is in contact with the enemy. But with the ban in place, official credit for combat experience was not given which restricts a woman from advancing up in ranks ( Steinhauer). In January of 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the Obama administration would allow women to be placed in positions fighting with enemy ground forces by 2016.
This will give the military time to re-evaluate the standard exams for these positions and create gender neutral test that can be applied equally. This will allow women to fill thousands of position which were previously excluded (Boykin). With the approval on women being allowed to apply for combat positions, some have debated against this approval. Elaine Donnelly, President of Center for Military Readiness, is one who believes women should not be allowed into such programs. She states that the physical impact will weigh greatly on women, especially on smaller female soldiers.
On average women have 45 to 50 percent less upper body strength and 25 to 30 percent less aerobic capacity, which is essential for endurance. Units like infantry require operations mostly on foot, traveling long distances, but also frequently carrying loads in excess of 50 pounds. Both the short and long term health effects of such demands can be significant. Because of this, Donnelly believes women will not have an equal opportunity to survive or to help others. Furthermore, training for female soldiers is modified to compensate for physical differences.
Donnelly made a point that modification will not aid on the battlefield (The New York Times Upfront). Another concern with integrating women in combat units is the mental and emotional impact it will have on them. Elizabeth Hoisington, a Brigadier General in the U. S. Army, believes women are not mentally and emotionally qualified for combat (Bell). Now that I have given some insight against women in combat, let’s take a look at the other side of the debate. Over the past 65 years, women have served and moved up in ranks in the U. S. military.
Now with the ban lifted, some believe this is a great step towards equal rights for women and a more equal military. Brigadier General Wilma Vaught of the United States Air Force is one who believes this is a step in the right direction. Vaught believes that gender was the reason why women were not allowed in combat units, “where and how women serve in the military should be based on ability and training, not gender. ”(The New York Times Upfront) Women in the past have led men in battle, flown combat aircrafts and combat ships.
Vaught states that women meet the military’s physical and mental standards, and are technically proficient. With today’s battlefields and war on terror, there are no front-lines, and every unit has the potential to engage with the enemy. Vaught lastly stated that the U. S. should not handicap the military with outdated policies that restrict the use of capable people (The New York Times Upfront). With the extreme standards that come with these elite units, some like Gen. Vaught are positive that women are capable to do the job.
The elite combat units are among the most physically and psychologically demanding in the military. Most men fail the qualifications for these job positions, leaving some to question if woman are able capable of meeting these standards. On the contrary, some like Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught believe that women are capable in serving in combat roles and even a select few have served alongside with these units without any recognition. With the information I have collected and provided, I recommend for you to think about this issue and ask yourself this question, should women be allowed in combat units?