Women in the Military: The Combat Exclusion Law


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Should women serve in combat positions? The Combat Exclusion Law has dealt with this question since the 1940’s. As time continues, the question remains. The military has increased the percentage of females allowed to be enlisted and commissioned in the services as well as increasing the positions allotted to them (Matthews, Ender, Laurence, & Rohall, 2009). Keenan posits “women have served with distinction in … the Revolutionary War…as volunteer nurses and were only occasionally in the direct line of fire…four nurses evacuating 42 patients while the Germans bombed their field hospital…” (the DoD Combat Exclusion Policy) pg. 21.
The most recent debate questions a women’s engagement in combat. What distinguishes some positions as being acceptable while others are not? Who has the authority to approve exceptions, and what exceptions have been made? On May 13, 2011, a bill placed before the House of Representatives addressed the issues to “repeal the ground combat exclusion policy for female members” (HR 1928).
Political Issues or Influences
In 1973, women began to grow in numbers in the All-Volunteer Force implemented under President Nixon. “In February 1988, Department of Defense (DoD) codified the Combat Exclusion Policy by adopting the ‘Risk Rule’”, (the DoD Combat Exclusion Policy) pg. 21, 22. The change of the feminine role in the civilian population has forced a review of their presence in the Armed Forces. These roles reviewed after the onset of the Exclusion Law in “1967 when the statutory strengths and grade limitations were lifted” (…GOA, pg 4) as well as in 1978 when positions available to women were expanded (…GOA). In 1992 and 1993 when the “Defense Authorization Acts were implemented, congress revoked the prohibition of women’s assignments to combat aircraft… and in January 1994 the ‘Risk Rule’ was rescinded” (the DoD Combat Exclusion Policy) pg 22. With the 1994 change in the “Risk Rule”, assignments were available for females in all services to participate in all available positions. Exceptions of “assignments to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is direct ground combat” (the DoD Combat Exclusion Policy) pg 22(ibid) were put in place.
H.R. 1928 sought to title their bill “Women’s Fair and Equal right to Military Service Act” (HR. 1928), as greater than 250,000 females had already been deployed to combat zones in the Middle East and at that time 137 females had lost their lives while in combat (HR 1928).

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As women continue to work side by side with men, the case of equal placement continues. Contrary to that argument is the power to care for family members, specifically the children and how they are affected when their mother goes into battle.
Additional Policies that were a Result or Outcome
of Combat Exclusion Law
As the Combat Exclusion Law was defined, the separate services were provided the leniency of distinguishing their ability to determine possible combat risks. Each military service was to define their policies to determine where females could and could not serve. What this means to the Army in particular is that “all jobs except those having the highest probability of engaging in direct combat” (GOA, pg 8) will be opened to women in the Army. The Navy, Marines and Air Force have all had to evaluate the exclusion laws as well and determine for their female members what safety means in light of potential harm brought to their female members.
The Struggle of Course of Events Involving this Issue
The ability for one to determine the roles of women in the military became skewed as warfare changed. This change combined with the female role shifting caused strategic navigation for services to confirm locations and positions of women in the services as “safe versus dangerous locations” (…GOA, pg 10) were trying to determine.
The percentage of women in the military services has continued to develop since 1970’s. In 2007, 15 percent of the force was female compared to 9 percent at the time of the Gulf War (Smith, Jacobson, Smith, Hooper, & Ryan, 2007). By May 2011 “260,457 female members of the Armed Forces had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation new Dawn” (HB 1928) with 137 having lost their lives. The bill continues to report increased numbers of females placed in the frontline regardless of the current exclusion policy.
Acceptance of women in the military participating in various roles has increased over the years. According to Lt. Col. Henderson Baker II, women’s acceptance into combat roles may be a cultural issue that has placed a barrier on women to continue to proceed to the front lines. He posits “their specialties and expertise, not their gender, have taken them closer to the battlefront” (USAWC STRATEGY RESEARCH PROJECT).
In 2009, Matthews, Ender, Laurence, & Rohall completed a survey, detailing personal attitudes of male and females on their thoughts of women serving in the military and particular positions. The participants included ROTC, West Point, and civilian college samples. Civilian results compared to that of the military personnel interviewed. Results identified women and civilians having a greater acceptance of women serving in a variety of a military career fields. As women are gaining acceptance serving in the military services, controversy continues, especially among those serving.
Conflict roles for mothers in the military have been at the forefront. What exactly is the new mother’s role? To be deployed four months after her baby is born or to remain stateside and nurse her child while strengthening the relationship between mother and child? Single mother’s being deployed also continue to raise the question as to who should be caring the children. Sexual assault is another matter resting in those who argue against women in combat.
Additional influences as to the service of woman in combat contribute to the media presence in identifying all the leading struggles of women in combat, and/or their roles and placement in theater within those roles. Further, conflicts of women serving are their ability to acquiesce to their specified function, or become pregnant and then struggle with orders to deploy with their troops when they are a single parent.
The Outcome or Current Status
The question as to women serving in the military has recently been increased as to the locations and positions available. Each service has the ability to determine their own policy as to which positions they will allow women to serve. There is a clear understanding that females, just as males, are diversified and able to maintain stability in a variety of positions necessary in the each of the services. This discussion is far from completed.
Women are positioned in all services, both the active and reserve components with restrictions as to which positions they may be assigned. The availability for the forces to maintain forward movement without strengthening their force of women in combat has been challenging, and thus identified as near impossible as the various services have moved forward in implementing their policies allowing women in a variety of combatant roles (military). (Smith, Jacobson, Smith, Hooper, & Ryan, 2007).
The Impact on Active Duty Service Members and their
Families or Veterans and their Families
Women are in strategic positions throughout the military services, to include the active component and the reserve forces. These women are both single and married, some with and others without children. There is no doubt a minimum of a dual role each service women holds, that of a mother, spouse and service member. Conflicts occur during this time, and the family is required to work out the situation. The impacts toward the minimal studies have been completed to determine the influence on the female member and the family dynamics, to include the time of service in the military, deployment and upon separation of the military as a veteran.



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