The inclusion of women in ground combat branches in the US Army has been a very transforming step forward for decades to come. It has been claimed that to fully realize this remarkable goal patriarchal views must be exchanged for equivalency, that in the past the practices in the military seemed unfair because they were based upon differences between gender. Physical differences based on gender specifically PT test has been used to determine that women are physically weaker than their male counterparts. The five women who hold the title of being the only five female US Army Rangers have negated that view by proving that it is not physical capabilities only but, the mental fortitude required to overcome the most difficult and challenging US Army leadership course, or rather on of the hardest leadership courses in all of the militaries across the world. To keep the momentum going when it comes to fully integrate women the mindset of both men and women has to change the mindset of the institution as a whole. Kinship and equivalency are essential for this changed mindset and instead of considering each other a separate body of people serving the same mission it has to be brothers and sisters accomplishing the same goal (Bronson). Men and women act differently because they are different and bring different perspectives, advantages, and disadvantages to the battlefield and it has to be made clear that this diversity is what will make the US Army a diverse fighting and capable machine. There standards that need to be met and will be met by both men and women but based on equality of performance, not generations-old views that consistently places men over women because the battlefield is a “man’s place of work”.
Since 1933, the United States government deemed it necessary never to use legal impediments in barring women from serving in any unit of the Armed Forces (Kamarck, 2016). The new paradigm was made possible when the US Congress abolished any statute or legal prohibition that made it illegal for females to serve as servicemen aboard aircraft and vessels under the control of the different branches of the US military command. Nevertheless, the Department of Defense or DOD continues to honor and observe guidelines and military codes that prohibited the deployment of women into units tasked to serve below the brigade level – a section of the military command wherein units are expected to experience direct engagement with enemy combatants. As a result, female soldiers under the jurisdiction of the US Armed Forces are never going to have the opportunity to serve in units linked to the infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers, and special operations units (Kamarck, 2016).
In response to modernization efforts and the need to stay relevant, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta abrogated the rule that prevented women from serving in combat units. Panetta tasked his subordinates to review the military’s occupational standards and assignment policies to create new guidelines and new protocols making it possible for female troopers to have combat duty before the start of the 2016 calendar year (Kamarck, 2016). Two years later, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter issued fresh directives opening combat jobs to women in branches of the US military (Kamarck, 2016).
The said policy changes did not occur on a whim, as it was preceded by scientific evaluations of women’s performance under combat conditions (Tepe, Yarnell, Nindl, Jones, Van Arsdale & Deuster, 2016). For example, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) initiated pragmatic evaluations on issues like unit cohesion, women’s health, facilities requirements, mental capabilities, and historical precedence when it comes to women in combat (Segal & Lane, 2016).
Close to three months after the deadline, Secretary Carter officially promulgated the approval of allowing the participation of female soldiers in direct ground combat roles. Nevertheless, challenges related to recruitment, integration, and career management continue to harangue military officials and institutional leaders adjusting to the new reality of women as combatants in bloody conflicts (Deuster & Tepe, 2016). Adherents and supporters of the new role of women in the US Armed forces traced a long and winding road for equality seekers in the military. They cited the fact that women were not recognized as official members of the Armed Forces until the US Congress established the Army Nurse Corps as a permanent organization within the Medical Department through the Army Reorganization Act of 1901 (Kamarck, 2016). Workforce requirements during World War II compelled the US government to expand the roles that women play in national defense (Mackenzie, 2012).
Whereas women served in the homefront during World War I, the Second World War made it possible for female volunteers to move closer into the uniformed services through the establishment of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve and the Women’s Army Corps or WAC (Kamarck, 2016).
At the end of the Second World War, the US Congress recognized the value of women in service uniforms and made them a permanent fixture of the US military by ratifying a law known as the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 (Brownson, 2016). However, the 1948 legal framework also contained exclusionary statutes barring the assignment of female soldiers to work onboard a military aircraft in combat mode (Kamarck, 2016). The same thing held for vessels or warships that were expected to engage the enemy in combat missions.
Patriarchy in the past has been rampant, idealized, and accepted not because it was just enforced by men but also because it was readily accepted by women as well. Over the years because of the social and cultural movements primarily, in the society on the civilian side, the US Army has adjusted accordingly and made changes which have brought us to this glorious day where we have witnessed one of the most remarkable events in the history of the US Army not just for the women but the Army as a whole.
The Vietnam War created familiar problems associated with recruitment and manpower requirements to bubble up to the surface (McNulty, 2012). Demands for equal opportunity forced the readjustment of attitudes and mindsets regarding the issue (Amara, 2014). As a result, there was an upsurge in the percentage of women serving in combat zones. However, the US military officials operated under a haze as they had no clear idea of how to integrate women into combat units (Segal, Smith, Segal & Canuso, 2016).
In the 1980s, the Department of Defense Task Force on Women in the Military highlighted the lack of clarity in the practical definition and application of “combat missions” in the context of women serving in the military (Devaney, 2012). As a consequence, policymakers are having a tough time dealing with the ramifications of assigning women into combat roles (Cone, 2016). The initial reaction to the growing clamor for expanding women’s capability to serve in the military, policymakers tried to play safe, and they developed the so-called “risk rule” making it mandatory to preclude women from serving behind enemy lines and serving in a capacity that exposes them to mortal danger.
Adherents to the proposed change in policy faced steep opposition in their quest to transform military ideology regarding the inclusion of women into combat units. The challenge voiced out against the aforementioned policy changes went into overdrive during, and in the aftermath of the First Persian Gulf War, in the global coalition against Saddam Hussein’s army known all over the world as Operation Desert Storm (Barry, 2013). In the well-documented 20th-century war effort, 16 women soldiers were killed in the line of duty, and an additional two female military personnel were abducted.
The already vociferous counter-arguments against the idea of adding women into combat groups went into overdrive amid Operation Desert Storm as a result of the infamous capture of an army flight surgeon. The POWs name was Major Rhonda Cornum. At that time, Major Cornum was riding a helicopter en route to a search and rescue mission when the aircraft was shot down by enemy troops. News of her captivity grabbed headlines, especially after the disclosure that her captors sexually assaulted her while she was a detainee behind enemy lines. The incident magnified the public’s concern regarding the vulnerable position of female soldiers when deployed into dangerous assignments.
Although most people cringe at the thought of sending women into the front lines and engage the enemy just like their male counterparts, civil rights and women’s advocacy groups combined forces with like-minded people to accelerate the progressive transformation of the US military forces in the context of not preventing women to garner promotions and monetary rewards based on gender discrimination. The collective action of the aforementioned groups bore fruit because the US Congress enacted in 1991 laws repealing statutory limitations on the assignment of women in the Armed Forces to combat aircraft (Kamarck, 2016). Similar laws were ratified that led to the establishment of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces (Kamarck, 2016). The said commission promulgated key groundbreaking recommendations, such as the creation of directives instructing the Department of Defense to craft policies that ensure the non-discrimination of enlisted men and women based on gender. Besides, the commission also expressed its approval on any changes that empower the Secretary of Defense to set goals that encourage the deliberate recruitment of women in the US Armed Forces.
The commission’s energetic support of women in the military was tempered by succeeding recommendations that specifically laid the ground rules for the exclusion of women from participating in activities associated with direct land combat units and combat positions. In other words, it was acceptable to have female soldiers in warships and aircraft carriers, but they are not allowed in vessels and aircraft that can bring them in a face-to-face encounter with the enemy. Furthermore, the commission also explicitly made the recommendations against combat assignments in submarines and amphibious vessels that participate in land combat missions. Therefore, the so-called “risk rule” framework was a powerful influence in shaping laws concerning women in combat roles.
Three years after the commission’s recommendations took effect, a new round of changes swept the US military departments and the US Congress. Former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin directed his subordinates to consider the legal implications of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY1994 (P.L. 103160), a law that finally repealed all the existing prohibitions that barred the participation of women in different capacities in future war efforts. It was in the historic year of 1994 when Aspin officially rescinded the “risk rule” and gave his wholehearted approval for the US Armed Forces’ Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, also known as the Direct Combat Exclusion Rule (Kamarck, 2016).
Great strides had been made due to the 1994 ruling. Nonetheless, policymakers are not yet ready to see women engaging in trench warfare so-to-speak and fighting in close-quarter combat against grizzled veterans and experienced fighters. Thus, even with the abolition of the Direct Combat Exclusion Rule, certain reservations remain, and exceptions to the rule were made clear, such as, the exclusion of female soldiers in combat assignments that will expose them to hostile fire and direct physical contact with enemy forces (Kamarck, 2016).
It was made clear that the Secretary of Defense was not only worried about the public relations nightmare that may follow after images of deadly female soldiers are shown on news footage and news periodicals (Hacker & Vining, 2013). Other considerations include the logistical problems that inevitably follow when male and female soldiers are forced to live together in cramped quarters, and the tough living conditions exacerbated by the harsh realities of fighting the enemy in their turf. The Secretary of Defense was quoted describing the significant cost of appropriate berthing and privacy arrangements when considering the needs of women (Kamarck, 2016). Also, the top brass of the US Armed Forces carefully considered the physical toll of long-range reconnaissance missions as well as the ethical quandary of having men and women work near each other (McGraw, Koehlmoos, Ritchie, 2016). The arguments against the participation of women in dangerous facets of the war effort were never assailed by a more persuasive rebuttal until the turn of the 21st century. However, just like in World War II and the First Persian Gulf War, the changing realities of military conflicts compelled the reconsideration of established ideologies regarding the need to finally demolish any form of exclusionary framework that prevents the attainment of equal status in all the branches under the command of the US military bureaucracy. Another wave of change radically altered the worldview of policymakers, especially in the aftermath of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003 (Dye, Eskridge, Tepe, Clouser & Galarneau, 2016).
The use of human shields, child soldiers, and women as suicide bombers radically altered the way modern combat tactics were applied and deployed in armed conflicts that took place in the Middle East. In the nonlinear battlefields that came to characterize both the OIF and OEF, America’s female soldiers were inadvertently placed in harm’s way and direct contact with the enemy when the need for the presence of women and higher levels of interaction with the local population was a requirement to retain the gains of military victory. Thus, the presence of women in support units that were located dangerously close to active engagements satisfied the doctrines of deployment governing the assignment of women in certain roles and positions. However, the innocent and seemingly less dangerous activity of frisking local female residents for weapons and dangerous devices can instantly transform into a situation that was drawn up in the exclusionary rules prohibiting the deployment of female soldiers in direct contact with the enemy. The confusion is attributed to the enemy’s application of guerrilla warfare tactics and other unconventional strategies to defeat the stronger capabilities of an occupying enemy force. For example, an Afghanistan woman wearing ordinary clothes and stands out as a non-threatening force can suddenly alter her impact by detonating a bomb strapped around her body (Dye, Eskridge, Tepe, Clouser & Galarneau, 2016). Not as a matter of design, but as the byproduct of efficiency, female soldiers were compelled to work with special operations forces (SOF) in Cultural Support Teams in dealing with the local female population in extremely hostile areas of assignment (Kamarck, 2016). In stark contrast to the minimal number of female casualties in the First Persian Gulf War, the government released statistics describing the deaths of 166 women soldiers in addition to the 1033 women soldiers that were wounded from 2003 to 2016 (Kamarck, 2016).
The continuous demand for greater equality and the total abrogation of statutory prohibitions, as well as the performance of female soldiers in the battlefield, made it impractical and difficult to justify the perpetuation of certain exclusionary measures preventing women to serve as combat soldiers in the context of the US military. Thus, at the end of 2015, Secretary Carter established the directive that allowed the entry of women into combat roles provided that they were able to meet certain occupational standards (Kamarck, 2016).
Secretary Carter expedited the inclusion of women into previously barred positions by directing the various departments of the US Armed Forces to create the necessary plans and timelines paving the way for a smooth transition into a new era in America’s military history. As a consequence, the American people witnessed a significant increase in the number of women included in the roster and identified as members of ground combat units. At the same time, a significant increase had been detected in the number of women establishing military careers.
New guidelines and regulations made it easier for women to fill up new positions through the process of accession or through lateral transfers from other branches of the military or from previous positions that were deemed of lower significance (Kamarck, 2016).
The end of the 2016 calendar year marked several milestones that were breached when it came to women advocacies and the clamor for equality in the Armed Forces. Without a doubt, the adherents of specific policy changes urging a new worldview regarding female soldiers in combat roles experienced profound moral and legal victory when barriers were lifted and opening greater opportunities for women to serve in the military. Nevertheless, the last frontier in the said struggle for equality is exemplified by invisible barriers created by occupational standards and health issues concerning the participation of women in extremely difficult assignments requiring higher levels of physical strength and endurance (Savage-Knepshield, Thomas, Schweitzer, Kozycki, & Hullinger, 2016).
Due to invisible barriers indirectly created by the requirements of modern warfare, it was pointed out that the number of women allowed entry into Infantry and Special Operations career fields is relatively low compared to jobs linked to other combat units. For example, as late as September 2016, there was no evidence to show that a female recruit was able to withstand and overcome the rigors of Special Operations training protocols (Kamarck, 2016).
It is imperative to point out that the establishment of occupational standards was not meant as a last resort tactic barring women from serving in combat units. Although the military created these standards as a means to encourage a certain level of compliance to certain expectations considering the physical nature of the work they are going to experience in the real world, the US Armed Forces made sure to consider the physiological differences between a man and a woman (Grier, Canham-Chervak, Anderson, Bushman & Jones, 2015). Thus, policymakers created a concept called “gender-norming” and “age-norming” developing different standards of physical fitness based on gender and age (Gier et al., 2015). Nevertheless, service members are expected to maintain basic physical fitness standards (Gier et al., 2015). The top brass of the US military made it a critical factor to establish additional standards for screening or entry into certain occupational fields based on the workload, job requirements, and other expected capabilities that the applicant must possess to achieve a certain level of success in that combat unit or department (Kamarck, 2016). Thus, one can make the argument that basic physical standards are mere measurement mechanisms to determine the level of effort exerted by the applicant. In other words, a male volunteer or applicant may run as fast as his female counterpart but the results of his performance evaluation are lower because he could run faster or jump higher. On the other hand, occupational standards were created based on specific job requirements (Kamarck, 2016). Thus, it is outcome-based, making it more difficult for women to surpass the verification process associated with special operations training protocols and other combat units.
To keep the momentum going for this momentous act both males and females need to understand that they are working with each other and against the enemy and not against each other. WEB DuBois said it like no other that ”Finally authority means the recognition of the fact that all cannot lead because all are not fit to lead, but we must listen to the noblest, not to the loudest….” (Bronson). The most effective leaders are not the loudest or those who practice leadership but those who are considerate, have a shining character, and look after their people without ulterior motives. The stakes are usually already stacked against women from day one of joining a branch, people all of a sudden start asking about how serious she is about her commitment to the service and that this is just a phase of life and not a permanent situation.
Then throughout her career, she is constantly put down for not having the same physical standards to meet and that she is weak because of lower physical standards. Now, this is the regular Army, regular PT test requirements that have a different standard set for males and females based on the age groups they fall under. For the US Army Ranger school, there is just one set standard that needs to be met or one simply does not become a US Army Ranger. Gender integration has opened several doors for females but what is going to make this transformation successful is the change of the thought process that soldiers have; the distinction in their minds that women who are trying to be combat soldiers are trying to be honorary male soldiers. That is completely wrong and ignorant and is an example of how negative stereotyping, maleness, and inequity can destroy the cohesiveness of an organization and keep women out of such professions simply because they do not feel invited. By implementing kinship women will feel welcome, part of the unit, and organization and work harder to add to the team and not constantly focus on having to prove themselves. Women will be able to spread out and apply their varied talents (Bronson).
There is a warrior ethos that every US Army soldier (enlisted or officer) abides by and a part of that is to never leave a fallen comrade behind. No two roles are being played out here and both sides need to make sure during training to avoid playing out the two roles simultaneously in the battlefield and gender integration into combat arms should be the least of the concerns instead, men and women need to take their duty seriously and not just for fifteen minutes of fame it may provide because the battlefield is not glamorous. What should be focused on is making the female soldiers just as strong to meet the demanding requirements and that can be achieved by training females well. More often than not females do not want to go to the gym to lift heavy weights with the fear of bulking up when in fact as a woman unless one is taking external supplementation of testosterone, there is not enough testosterone in the body to sustain the same amount of bulking up as in a guy. The gyms are open to men and women both and instead of just focusing on cardio as the primary mode of exercise women need to lift weights and do more cross-training that is functional. Several studies have been conducted that observed women who only performed cardio, only weight training, only cross-training, and then those who did not have a personal trainer, and the results were in favor of cross-training for getting women ready for the best performance. There was no evidence of any difference in injury prevention in any of the four choices.
To guarantee their continued progression, the outdated and conflict-ridden idea of patriarchy and its additional baggage must be cast away and the enabling concepts of equivalency and kinship embraced (Brownson, 2016).
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