A Congressional study commission has recommended an end to the Pentagon’s ban on women serving in ground combat — a policy that years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown to be impractical. Female soldiers have become involved in de facto combat situations, suffering death and battle wounds. At the same time, their careers are crimped as leadership promotions flowed more to men with combat experience, according to the study.
The case for women warriors was succinctly put by Senator Kay Hagan as a member of the Armed Services Committee. “Women are driving these Humvees and having their legs blown off,” she told CQ Today. She urged the Pentagon to accept reality and officially integrate small armor and infantry units with women.
A 1994 law allowed women to serve on combat surface ships and authorized the Pentagon to make additional changes, providing Congress is notified. Last year, female sailors were permitted to serve aboard submarines.
The evolution to ground combat was recommended by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, which spent 18 months studying ethnic, gender and cultural problems hindering career advancement in the military. “Being ineligible for infantry may be perceived to make a female soldier ‘less Army,’ ” the commission stressed, adding that research has not born out shibboleths that women are too weak for combat, can harm a unit’s cohesion or are more prone to mental health disorders than men in combat.
Considering the perils of war, the nation’s female soldiers deserve a fair chance at advancement. Their lives are already on the line.