Although their numbers are still disappointingly small, military women now serve with distinction in every service. The women who served in Operation Desert Storm flew planes into enemy territory, fired weapons, commanded combat support units, ferried troops in to the combat zone and carried them fuel and supplies. At the end of the war, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney applauded the women's performance: "They did a bang up job....They were every bit as professional as their male colleagues." He also noted that he "wouldn't be at all surprised to see the role of women in combat expanded in the year ahead." Yet, more than a decade later, women are still prohibited from direct combat. Recently, Jessica Lynch's actions on the battlefield in Iraq are once again fueling the debate over the role of women in the military. Many are in favor of letting women join men assigned to the frontlines.
As of March 31, 2001, women in the military made up approximately fifteen percent of the total active force. The Air Force has the highest percentage of women and the Marine Corps the lowest as shown in the following table.
Service and rank
Number of women
Women as a percentage of total personnel
Total DOD forces2
1. Officers include warrant officers.
2. Defense Department (DOD) forces do not include Coast Guard.
Source: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center, unpublished data, March 30, 2001.
Presently, ninety-two percent of all military specialties are open to women. Positions closed to women are in areas of direct combat defined as well forward on the battlefield where there is a high probably of physical combat. Thus, women are excluded from the infantry and Special Forces, two areas the offer the greatest opportunity for rapid advancement.
In addition, there have been recent moves to ban women from the new reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition teams.
When it comes to combat assignments, our government had concluded that military must take precedence over all other considerations, including the career prospects of individual service members. The military service is not a corporation. And being a soldier. sailor or airman is more than just a job. Civil society protects individuals rights, but the military, which protects civil society, must be governed by different rules. Thus, Congress and the courts have held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ensures all individuals are treated equally before the law with respect to civilian employment, does not apply to the military profession.
Evidence against the use of women in ground combat presented to the Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces stated that ground the combatant relies heavily on physical strength and mental toughness for survival. and, according to the laundry list of arguments below, women simply aren't up to the challenge:
Women's aerobic capacity is significantly lower, meaning they cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue.
Women are shorter, have less muscle mass, and weigh less than men, placing them at a distinct disadvantage when performing tasks requiring a high level of muscular strength and aerobic capacity, like ground combat.
Women are also at a higher risk for exercise-induced injuries than men, with 2.13 times greater risk for lower extremity injuries, and 4.71 times greater risk for stress fractures.
In terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median.
The average 20-to-30-year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50-year-old man/
Lt. Col. Stephen Smith, a Gulf War mechanized infantry commander, told the Commission:
By introducing women, even women who have the physical capability to lift the rucksacks, walk the distances, raise the hatches, load the TOW missiles, break the track on those vehicles and put it back together again, you are still introducing into that equation other factors that weren't there before: sexual jealousies, intentions, our own social or moral values come into play, and they make more difficult that job of that commander who is forward."
However, the requirement for physical strength and skills has grown less, as technology has modernized combat. Therefore, there is a need not so much for the strongest men, but now…