By Debbie Gregory.
Early in 2013, officials at the Pentagon announced that it would lift the ban preventing women from serving in combat roles in the U.S. military. In the summer of 2013, representatives from each branch of the military assured Congress that they could open combat positions to females by 2016, without lowering existing physical standards that the roles require.
On January 24, 2014 the U.S. Army opened up 33,000 combat positions to women. The Army plans to open more in April, 2014.
While all of this news was sporadically making headlines in the media, the U.S. Army was busy conducting reconnaissance work for their task at hand. The Army ran a series of surveys across their ranks to get a general consensus of the concerns and preconceived notions that American soldiers have with gender integration.
Of the approximately 170,000 female soldiers, only around 8% of them said that they wanted combat roles. Among the 30,000 female Reservist and National Guard members that responded to the survey, only 2,238 (7.5%) said they would want to enter a combat position once the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) opened up to them.
The U.S. Army currently boasts approximately 1.1 million soldiers in its ranks, and only about 200,000 of them are in combat and combat related positions, including infantry, field artillery, combat engineers and armor. These jobs make up less than 20% of the total force.
In the surveys that both male and female soldiers were queried, nearly all of the soldiers agreed that the physical requirements for combat roles should remain the same. Remarks of not lowering the standard reflected the opinions that doing so could be detrimental to the overall effectiveness of the force, and that women wanted to “earn” their way into select roles, not be given them. Male and female soldiers also agreed in the surveys that they would be willing to give battlefield integration a fair shot.
The most remarkable finding in the survey was that of the 8% of female soldiers who said that they would want a combat position, more than 30% of them said that they would specifically like to join the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The 160th is an elite special operations helicopter unit that flies fast and low, deep behind enemy lines, almost always under the cover of darkness. Because of their night ops, the 160th have been given the nickname of “Night Stalkers.” Leadership from the 160th has said that they have openings, and are willing to accept qualified soldiers who meet eligibility requirements.
It’s great to see women in the military given their chance to serve their country to their full capacity. Women who wish to serve in combat roles should be given the same opportunities to compete for those positions as any other soldier who puts on the uniform. The Army appears to be taking a proactive approach in order to make this happen.
The women and men currently serving in the armed forces are making history as we speak. Somewhere, right now, there are women currently in uniform or going through the enlistment process, who will be among the first women in the history of the U.S. military to serve in combat. These women will surely be immortalized in history books, documentaries, and the hearts of Americans.