Women in Combat

In the 1970ís, the services traditional attitude toward women was challenged; change was forced upon a reluctant establishment (Holm, 198). The decision to end the draft was the catalyst to such change. This decision allowed for womenísí participation in the armed forces in unprecedented numbers. The United States Armed Forces have more female numbers than any other nation in the world, both in actual numbers and in percentages (Holm, 1982). The drive for an all-volunteer force, along with an "aggressive tide of feminism" and congressional passage of the equal rights Amendments led to a gradual shift in the role and status of women in the military (Holm, 1982). In todayís military, women were no longer confined to traditional roles in the medical and administrative fields. Almost all military job categories and military occupational specialties (MOS) have been opened to women. They now repair tanks, warplanes, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMís). They serve on naval vessels that deploy to service ships and submarines of the operational fleet and on Coast Guard cutters operating off United States shores. They serve on missile crews, operate heavy equipment, and direct air traffic. They also provide essential support to combat troops in the field (Holm, 1982). It appears that women have been integrated into practically every aspect of the military; yet there are some jobs that remain closed to them, namely-direct combat specialties (Holm, 1982; Goldman, 1982). It is over these residual exclusions that controversy rages.

Technically, women are barred by low or policy from what is defined in narrow terms as "combat". Each of the United States Armed Services excludes females from active Combat. The nature and extent of the exclusion varies with each service. Yet, many argue that the distinction between combat and non-combat becomes blurred in the context of women warfare (Gilder, 1979; Holm, 1982, Goldman, 1982). In actually, many women are assigned to jabs that will expose them to enemy attack, and this has been openly acknowledged by the top Pentagon officials (Women in combat-closer than you think, 1980). The United States Army has also recognized that women would be deployed in combat zones as an inevitable consequence of their assignments. This was confirmed in the following statement made by then Army Chief of Staff, General Bernad W. Rogers: "Some people believe that women soldiers will not be deployed in the event of hostilities: that they are only to be part-time soldiers here in peace, gone in war. Women are an essential part of the force; they will deploy with their units and they will serve in the skills in which they have been trained" (Holm, 1982, p. 286).

It appears that the combat exclusion policy does not realistically exclude women from combat, and it seems the militaryís reliance on women is increasing. Schneider (1988) conducted interviews with women in traditionally male jobs, asking them what they felt their status would become if a war broke out. In general, they believed that "...they could not and would not be removed in combat situation" (p. 162). The following was taken from two of these interviews. "Iíve already asked," said a first flight engineer on a C-5, what happens if Iím sitting on alert in Europe somewhere and something really happens? Does that mean that they donít have a legal crew anymore because the engineer canít go?"í A Coast Guard female lieutenant had this to say: Ď" I was the trained CIC officer, responsible for the combat information center. Along with a team of radar men, CIC must plot all enemy and friendly forces and advise the bridge of such things as incoming missiles.... Iím the one thatís used to working with these guys. That was the purpose of sending us through that simulated training, so that we could get used to working together as a team. What would they do? They couldnít just fly me off and stick somebody else in there"í (Schneider, 1988, p.162).

It appears that the United States military is in a position where women are so fully and flexibly involved in the organizational structure, that in a war, it would be very difficult to separate them out. Yet, there are those who feel those women are not physically and mentally capable of withstanding the effects of combat. There