You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Fairness, fitness key in women's combat roles

Jan. 28, 2013 - 07:49AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 28, 2013 - 07:49AM  |  
Women have fought with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon has for the past year formulated its plan to break down the barriers to allow them in direct combat roles, a plan that carries the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Women have fought with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon has for the past year formulated its plan to break down the barriers to allow them in direct combat roles, a plan that carries the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Army)
  • Filed Under

Related reading

Timeline: Women in the Army


Commissioned officer
11A Infantry officer
18A Special Forces officer
19A Armor officer
Warrant officer
180A Special Forces warrant officer
11B Infantryman
11C Indirect fire infantryman
11Z Infantry senior sergeant
12B/21B Combat engineer•
13B Cannon crewmember
13D Field artillery tactical sys. spc.
13F Fire support specialist
18B Special Forces weapons sergeant
18C Special Forces engineer sergeant
18D Special Forces medical sergeant
18E Special Forces communications sergeant
18F Special Forces assistant operations and intelligence sergeant
18Z Special Forces senior sergeant
19D Cavalry scout
19K Armor crewman
19Z Armor senior sergeant
• Note: 12B is becoming 21B.

The historic decision to lift the ban on women in combat roles is not the end of their battle for opportunity it is the beginning.

  • Please enable JavaScript for your browser in order to use
Want to read more?
Current Subscribers
Access to Army Times Prime is free for current Army Times subscribers.
Log in
Haven't registered online?
Activate Account
New Subscribers
Start your subscription to Army Times Prime for as little as 59¢ a week!

The historic decision to lift the ban on women in combat roles is not the end of their battle for opportunity it is the beginning.

Now the effort shifts from granting equality to maintaining fairness as the Army executes an aggressive plan to uphold and perhaps raise individual standards without excluding women by default.

Women have fought with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon has for the past year formulated its plan to break down the barriers to allow them in direct combat roles, a plan that carries the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The goal now is to "eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers" and fill the entire fighting force with warriors qualified by capability, not gender, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"Our purpose is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the best qualified and the most capable service members, regardless of gender and regardless of creed and beliefs," he said. "If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job … then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation. Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance."

Now it's the Army's job to make sure every individual has a fair shot at success, and do this without diminishing unit cohesion, morale or war-fighting capability.

In the words of the Army's personnel chief, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, this is an opportunity not just to move women forward, but to move the Army forward.

To do this, the service is taking a three-pronged approach that will address physical standards, cadre construction and integration of women into once-closed units.

"There are challenges as we go forward, clearly," Bromberg said. "Our greatest risk is rushing into solution without sufficient analysis."

The Pentagon's goal is to open approximately 237,000 positions to women by 2016. Roughly 120,000 belong to the Army.

The service by May 15 must show the defense secretary how it will make the necessary changes. The Army then has until Jan. 1, 2016, to execute its plan.

But don't be surprised if you see women in "closed" MOSs long before that.

No ‘false standards'

The Army has led the charge as the Pentagon has been moving in this direction for some time.

The service last year opened six military occupational specialties to women, to include artillery mechanic and maintainers for the Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Army has since recruited 113 women who are scheduled to train in spring and be in their units this fall.

Still, Panetta's guidance is far more aggressive. Instead of an order to see where women could possibly serve, he has ordered all fields open. The defense secretary must approve any exception.

"Does every woman want to go right to one of these units? No," said Gen. Robert Cone, head of Training and Doctrine Command. "But those who do, they are looking for one thing: They want real and meaningful standards. They don't want exceptions made for them."

The armor general who boasts a Ranger tab said the plan must have credibility with the rank and file or it will not succeed.

"Our soldiers are ready for this, but they want to make sure it is done fair, it is done right and that it won't hurt their organization's performance," Cone said. "I think we have a good process in place to get us there."

That process is anchored on a critical review of physical standards for each MOS. The results will drive new "functional fitness" requirements that all soldiers in each respective field must meet.

"What I worry about is these false standards where someone says ‘run with a .50-caliber machine gun over your head for 400 meters,'" Cone said. "Why would anyone ever do that? Well, to keep women out of a branch. So my job is to make sure what we are asking these soldiers to do is real, it's relevant and it has validity."

Senior enlisted leaders and officers in each respective MOS are generating detailed lists of typical daily tasks and physical demands required for soldiers to be part of the team. The Army is looking for genuine standards that at least 90 percent of current soldiers can meet and are doing.

Those standards will be turned over to experts who will design MOS-specific functional fitness tests that will gauge whether the individual male or female has the physical attributes needed to get the job done.

Leadership will turn to the Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine for validation.

No lone women

This effort doesn't stop with individual strength. The Army also is launching a coordinated effort to build female cadres in the once-closed units.

"As we introduce women to previously closed occupations, we must make sure that there are a sufficient number of females entering the career field and already assigned to the related commands and leadership positions in order to sustain success over time," said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The Army won't be sending females into units alone. Studies show that at least four are needed to provide the support and leadership needed to succeed.

The Army Research Institute is working to design cadre configurations. There will be a need for female noncommissioned officers to serve as role models for junior troops. These NCOs may not enter a direct combat MOS themselves, but be assigned to the unit in another capacity. As such, women may be allowed to reclassify at certain grades to get them into the structure.

Building such a cadre will be more difficult if women are allowed to become Rangers and special operators.

"I think we all believe that there will be women who can meet those standards," Dempsey said. "The other part of the equation, of course, is in order to account for their safety and their success in those kinds of units, we got to have enough of them so that they have mentors and leaders above them. You wouldn't want to take one woman who can meet a standard and put her in a particular unit. … Where's her ability to have upward mobility and compete for command if she's one of one?"

Getting units ready

Making sure women are qualified and have a cadre is only part of the puzzle. The combat units must also be ready to receive these female warriors into their ranks.

Bromberg was a company-level air defense officer when women were integrated into that career field. The integration did not go well, and he is determined that those failures not be repeated.

Key to a smooth transition is the work being done by the TRADOC Analysis Center. It is tasked with overcoming social and cultural barriers and preparing units for integration.

Prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault is an obvious issue. Reports of sex crimes in the Army have seen a 28 percent increase in the offense rate and a 20 percent increase in the offender rate since 2006, according to Army data. Today, there are 2.5 reported cases of sexual assault per 1,000 soldiers.

The vast majority of these crimes happen among young, often underage soldiers in the barracks on the weekend.

And that is among the 143 MOSs in which men and women have served together for some time.

"It will be a challenge," Cone said. "But I would say in places where we have environments that are not acceptable to women in our Army today, we've got the wrong thing going on. It's a leadership failure if it exists."

As such, he is going straight to leadership to nip this in the bud. Units will receive substantial training that sets acceptable boundaries, and lets soldiers know what they can expect if they cross the line.

"America's Army must reflect America's society," Cone said. "Because we are values based, because we are committed to service to the nation, we can get over some obstacles that are often times caused by a personal prejudice and bias and ulterior motives."

A step at a time

Don't expect women to flood all 20 MOSs at once.

The first step will be to expand the 2012 directive that allowed women to be co-located with direct combat units at the battalion level. This opened 755 positions in maneuver battalions of nine Brigade Combat Teams. Today, 15 percent or 238 women are serving in those roles, which is consistent with the ratio of women in the force.

The Army in 2013 will expand that program to an additional eight active and nine Guard BCTs, Bromberg said. Lessons learned will inform the aforementioned integration and occupational studies used to open the direct combat MOSs to women.

For example, the Army had no problem building a female cadre in each of the nine BCTs. Implementation training with the chains of command also proved successful. While it is too early to have detailed statistics, Bromberg said polling feedback from the Army Research Institute revealed no indication of increased sexual harassment or sexual assault activity.

Co-location is one thing. Bringing women into a closed career field is another. But you are likely to see it happen next year.

While it is known that Rangers lead the way, they won't take the lead in this endeavor. Combat engineers and field artillery will be the first to see the changes.

Cone pointed to the "tremendous success" with the Sapper course integration. The plan is to build on such success, run integration pilot programs and use lessons learned to aid in the integration of armor and infantry. Cone admits the latter will probably be the toughest to tackle because of its size and standards.

From there, the Army will look at opening Ranger positions and will work with U.S. Special Operations Command to determine what, if any, spec ops MOSs will be opened to women.

Shooting holes in glass ceiling

Statistics strongly suggest the exclusion rule kept women from career advancements and opportunities because they cannot serve in jobs central to wartime missions and, as a result, are underrepresented in the Pentagon's senior leadership.

The Military Leadership Diversity Council and the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Service in 2011 submitted reports that describe combat exclusion rules as "unnecessary barriers" that are detrimental to the careers of women serving in uniform, prevent deployed women from getting necessary combat training, and keep capable and qualified women from contributing to the strength of combat units.

Women often miss out on key assignments because they can't be assigned to the units or jobs most likely to see direct offensive ground combat, the advisory groups said. These lost opportunities have a lasting effect.

Today, 80 percent of general officers come from the tactical and operational career fields that are closed to women. There are 23 female general officers in the Army. That's slightly less than 7 percent of all generals. Women represent about 15 percent of the force. Women comprise less than 2 percent of general officers in the Guard and reserves.

"This policy has become irrelevant given the modern battle space with its non-linear boundaries," according to a Feb. 9, 2012, report by the Defense Department's Office of Personnel and Readiness.

No more

The Army Women's Foundation was among the first groups to respond to the new policy.

"Throughout history, women have loved their country just as deeply as their fathers and brothers have loved it," the foundation said in a statement provided to Army Times.

"Military women have served this nation to the best of their abilities and to the extent they have been allowed. By lifting the remaining barriers that prevent women from fulfilling their dreams in the military, Secretary Panetta is further strengthening the military and thus the nation as a whole. Now, each individual soldier will be placed in jobs based on his or her individual abilities, not on a preconceived notion of those abilities."

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.

This Week's Army Times

This Week's Army Times

CrossFit vs. unit PT
Troops will do the training plans in a $2.5 million study

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook