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Women In Combat
In this report, I will present the information I've discovered concerning whether allowing women to serve in combat units will reduce a units effectiveness.

Women in today's military serve in more jobs and constitute the largest percent of women in the military they ever have. Four years ago women only made up 12 percent of the military, this has climbed from 1.6 percent in 1973 (Armed Forces and Society, 1996, p. 17). They also hold more jobs than ever before. In 1991, congress passed an amendment which allowed women to fly fixed wing and rotary wing combat aircraft in the military (Harvard International Review, 1992, 52). The military has also opened more combat support jobs in an effort get more women to join the military. Virtually every job is open to women in the military; infantry, submarines, and artillery are the only ones that are still off limits (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1996, p. 368).

The only focus of my paper is whether there is still a need to ban women from direct combat. First, let me explain the distinction between combat support units and direct combat units. The military changed its definition of direct combat for women. This opened up more jobs for women that had been off-limits (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p. 844). The performance of women in these positions was tested during the Gulf War. For the first time, American women flew combat missions and directly supported infantry units (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 200). Many times they were exposed to live fire, consequentially 13 were killed (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1992, p. 842). However, women were never considered to be in direct combat. The military's current combat exclusion policy states that women are prohibited from serving in positions that are "engaging an enemy with individual or crew-served weapons while being exposed to direct fire, a high probability or direct physical contact with the enemy's personnel, and a substantial risk of capture" (Law and Inequality, 1991, p. 6).

Many people feel that this policy is discriminatory towards women and only perpetuates the view that they are not seen equally in the military (Luddy, 1992 as cited by Stencel, 1992, 836). This policy ensures the effectiveness of the combat unit, which brings me to my next definition. The effectiveness of a combat unit is measured by its ability "...in mobilizing, and deploying troops, effectiveness in battle measured by outcomes, mission accomplishment or the ratio of United States versus enemy killed and wounded in combat" (Glenn, 1991, as cited by Peach, 1991, p. 212).

In this report, I will discuss five sub-topics. First, I will discuss the experience other nations have had with mixing men and women in combat. My next two sub-topics will compare men and women in two ways. I will start my second sub-topic by comparing men and women physically then comparing men and women psychologically. Then I will evaluate the health care needs of women in combat support units. Finally I will discuss the effect that women would have on unit cohesion. After discussing how these aspects can affect the effectiveness of the military, I will draw conclusions as to how these factors connect to the affects of allowing women to serve in combat. I will then the best possible recommendation using all of the information I have gathered concerning women in combat.

I have come to the following conclusion during my research. I am unable to determine the affect women in combat units will have. Undoubtedly, the majority of women are less muscular and lack the endurance of men. However, there is a small percentage of women that can equal or surpass some men currently serving in combat units. Also, I found very little research stating that women were not psychologically equal to men. There were three factors, which I used to compare men and women psychologically. I discussed how males are perceived to be more aggressive than females, the stress that males and females will face in combat, and female's effect on unit moral. Also I showed how important unit cohesion was in determining a units effectiveness. The health care needs can be met by combat support units when there are well trained physicians and nurses treat can handle the needs of women (Military Medicine, 1995, p. 221). My recommendations are that more tests have to be done. The first type of test would be an actual field test, submit men and women to the same extreme standards for combat duty to determine if women were capable for service (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p. 846). Only then should the military allow women to serve in combat units.



Only two countries besides the United States have used women in modern warfare. The first was Russia during WWII and later Israel in 1948. Russian women flew fighters to protect Stalingrad from advancing German armies and also took up arms to protect the city (The Journal of Military History, 1993, p. 319). After the war, Russian women were banned from all combat positions While in these positions it has been documented that they performed extremely well. The women pilots were soon called "Night Witches" due to their great performance (The Journal of Military History, 1993, p. 320). Israel during the War for Independence, also used women in direct combat positions. The need for women to serve in combat positions became great because so many men had been killed on the front lines. Like the Russians, after the conflict ended the Israeli military prohibited women from serving in these positions (Harvard International Review, 1992, p. 58). Many researchers after examining how women performed in these positions came to the same conclusion. They noted that the effectiveness of the combat unit was in jeopardy because of women. Men became overprotective of women and jeopardized the safety of the unit by taking unnecessary risks to protect women from danger (Harvard International Review, 1992, p. 58). Also less then one percent of the soldiers who were killed during the war were women (Bloom, 1982, as cited by Landers, 1989, p. 579).


The Russian women who flew combat missions during WWII are similar to the types of missions female pilots are expected to perform. During, the Gulf War, they flew jets and helicopters into combat zones along with their male counterparts (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p.842). Although, the women as a whole did not see much combat, the performance of Russian women prove that they would be able to handle the stress of air combat. The Israeli experience with women in combat is much different from the Russian. After the war ended the Israeli military conducted a survey which determined that the men were adversely affected by seeing women killed or maimed in combat (Editorial Research Reports, 1989, p. 579). In 1948, women all over the world accounted for a very small percentage of the military. This led to a traditionalist view of the role of women in the military and many Israeli men shared this view.



Serving in a ground combat unit is the most physically demanding job in the military. To serve with a ground combat unit males have to be in excellent physical condition. Women as a whole according to Pentagons studies have half the physical strength as men and only 2/3 the endurance (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p. 846). The Canadian military has acknowledged these differences and still allowed women to serve in direct combat positions (Editorial Research Reports, 1989, p. 570). Any female that can pass the 10-week infantry course can serve in the Canadian infantry. The Canadians have not lowered their standards for allowing women in combat but set rigorous standards and applied them to both sexes (Harvard International Review, 1992, p. 53).


The Canadian military has taken the first step toward allowing women to serve in ground combat (Editorial Research Reports, p. 576). The vast majority of women are unable to handle the physical demands of combat but there are many that can function in various combat environments (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p.217). To determine if women are suited for ground combat the military should conduct field testing. Females have to be able to do everything their male counterparts can do. A female in an infantry unit should not only be able to carry the standard M16A2 service rifle but every weapon in the company. If the machine gunner or mortarman is killed a female should be able to carry his weapon. The whole team concept that is vital to a combat units effectiveness and is called unit-cohesion (Editorial Research Reports, 1989, p. 582). Maintaining unit cohesion is vital for any leader to lead his troops into combat (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 213). If women were unable to meet any of these physical standards then the military's exclusion policy should remain in affect.



There are many psychological differences among men and women that are as important as the physical ones that separate the genders. The first difference is that men are more aggressive then women due to testosterone levels (Law and Inequality, 1991, p. 21). Under this assumption females would not perform as well in combat because they lack the aggression that males have (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, 223). Another psychological factor is that men would feel the need to protect women from harm similar to the Israeli soldiers in 1948 (Harvard International Review, 1992, p. 58). The stress in combat is another factor that many people feel women would not be able to handle. There have been no documented cases among women who served in the Gulf War that they could not handle the stress (Hypatia, 1995, p. 65). Air Force pilot Rhonda Cornum who was shot down during the gulf war is an example of women's ability to cope with stress (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 222). As a POW she dealt with many forms of abuse and still managed to cope with her situation the her fellow male prisoners did. Almost fifty percent of servicemembers surveyed during the Gulf War said that fraternization within the unit decreased its morale (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1996, p. 375).


The performance of Russian women in WWII refutes the theory that women are less effective in combat then men. German troops were quoted as saying they were more afraid of the female pilots then the male (The Journal of Military Affairs, 1993, p. 320) Secondly, the women seeking combat positions will generally be more aggressive than the majority of females who stay within traditional roles within the military. Although women performed well in the Gulf War, the 4-day war was not long to provide empirical evidence as to how women would perform in combat situations (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1992, p. 842). More research has to be conducted to determine the long-term effects women would have on a combat unit. Decreasing fraternization within a unit is the commanders responsibility. This relies on effective leadership from the bottom all the way to the top ensuring each member within the chain of command understands the effects of fraternization (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 215).



When a units moral is lowered this can lead to a decrease of the unit-cohesion that must take place within a combat unit. No studies have been done to prove or disprove women in combat would lower a units moral (Editorial Research Reports, 1989, p. 582). In the majority of combat units it is effective leadership and training that results in the unit cohesion (Hypatia, 1995, p. 65). Also many senior military officials feel that anything feminine destroys male-bonding and units should remain strictly male (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 213). However, a study of cohesion and readiness of combat support units during extended field exercises proved otherwise (Armed Forces & Society, 1996, p. 17). Male and female soldiers were asked questions about how they felt their unit performed in the field. "The study showed that the proportion of women (up to 35%) had no significant effect on the operational capabilities of the unit." (Armed Forces & Society, 1995, p. 17).


Unit-cohesion is the commander's responsibility for his unit. As the above survey shows men and women can interact without a decrease in unit cohesion. More importantly this survey was done while the unit was on a field exercise where stress levels are the highest. It was determined through the survey that when there are up to a third of the women in a unit this has no effect on unit-cohesion (Armed Forces & Society, 1995, p. 17). There have been no long-term studies done to determine if women in combat units will reduce unit cohesion (Editorial Research Reports, 1989, p. 582).



Both men and women in the military face many of the same health care needs. When a member of any unit becomes sick or injured and cannot be deployed this affects a units effectiveness. In the Gulf War, 9 percent of women could not be deployed with their units (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p. 839). Women also have many "gynecologic and non-gynecologic needs" (Military Medicine, 1992, p. 221) that would have to cared for by trained physicians. In 1992 army researchers conducted the first extensive study on women deployed with combat support unit. In the study of a Heavy Armor Division during the Gulf War, it was discovered that women's health care needs can be met by well-trained physicians and that there presence did not have a significant impact on a units effectiveness (Military Medicine, 1992, p. 221).


There are many stereotypes people feel make a combat unit not feasible for females. However, closer look at the numbers reveals that men lose more time because of drug and alcohol abuse then women do with these three factors combined (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1992, p. 839). As women continue to become an integral part of the military their health care needs should be meet by well-trained doctors and nurses (Military Medicine, 1992, p. 219). Given this evidence there is no logical basis for excluding women from combat to their health care needs


Women will make up nearly a fourth of the military within the next fifty years (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1996, p. 380). As their numbers increase so should the amount of jobs they are allowed to perform. Whether or not women should serve in combat should still be openly debated. There is no doubt that some women could handle the physical and physiological demands of combat (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1992, p. 846). That is not the most important question that has to answered. The fact is that many men would not be able handle seeing women in combat. Like the Israeli in 1948, the impact of seeing rows and rows of dead females could be too much to bear for many men (Harvard International Review, 1992, p. 58). The Gulf War did not provide enough data to conclude that women should be allowed in combat. Women did perform well in the jobs they were assigned, however, the war was not long enough for the military to evaluate how they would perform under fire (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p. 842).

There is only one question that needs to be answered. How will the effectiveness of the combat unit be affected by allowing women in combat? This report has defined effectiveness and through empirical research shown the various aspects that can affect a military units effectiveness. After conducting my research and answering the scope questions I have determined that more research needs to be done. To simply allow women to serve in combat units if they meet the qualifications would be impractical. The military has to conduct extensive field-testing to answer this question. Every facet that women would bring to a combat unit has to be analyzed. When the military community determines that women in combat would not lower effectiveness, only then should women be given the chance to serve in combat units.

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