Home » Afghanistan » Women in Combat: Are We Finally Going to Give Women Credit and Training For the Work They Already Do?

Women in Combat: Are We Finally Going to Give Women Credit and Training For the Work They Already Do?


Mary Jennings Hegar

Today in The Herald Scotland, Andrew Purcell wrote about Major Mary Jennings Hegar (pictured above), a former rescue helicopter pilot, who is suing the Department of Defense with three other female veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They are arguing that the Pentagon’s Combat Exclusion Policy “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and restricts women’s opportunities for career advancement and higher earnings and pensions.”

Hegar is the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, given for heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight, and a Purple Heart. However, she is barred from applying for numerous jobs because of the Pentagon’s Combat Exclusion Policy. The 1994 Policy says “women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” Although the current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, opened more than 14,000 jobs up to female officers and non-commissioned officers in combat units below the brigade level in 2012 as an exception to the Combat Exclusion Policy, there are still more than 200,000 jobs that are closed to women.

This needs to change. Any woman who is qualified for any job in the military should have the opportunity to serve and recieve credit for that service. Positions should be decided based on capability and not gender.

Here are Just a Few of the Reasons Why:

1.Women are Already Serving in Combat in Afghanistan and did so in Iraq: Despite the restrictions, over 144 American Women have been killed and over 865 American women have been wounded in combat in Afghanistan and in Iraq, according to the US Department of Defense. Given the nature of counterinsurgencies, there are no lines delineating where the battlefield is and is not. Suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices have made clear frontlines a thing of the past. As such, virtually all women serving overseas in Afghanistan have the potential to be in combat.

2.Women Have Performed Well in Afghanistan and Iraq According to Department of Defense Studies: The most recent U.S. Department of Defense study found that in Afghanistan and in Iraq women have positively impacted their units’ ability to complete thieir missions.

3.The U.S. Military Leadership Diversity Commission Reccommends Allowing Women to “Serve Fully in Front-Line Combat Units”.

4.More Than a Dozen Other Countries Have Successfully Allowed Women to Serve in “Close Combat” Roles: A 2010 study conducted by the British Ministry of Defense found that Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden all allowed women in “close combat roles,” or roles which invovled “engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile forces personnel.” In 2011, Australia opened up all front-line combat roles to women. Women have flown combat missions as fighter pilots for the United States, Britain, Pakistan, Serbia, and South Africa, amongst others.

5.The Combat Exclusion Policy Puts Women in Danger by Not Giving Them the Training They Need: Although women are in combat, as seen from the number of casualties, they are not getting the training they need for it.

6.Women Don’t Get the Same Opportunities for Career Advancement Because of the Combat Exclusion Policy: Numerous jobs in the military require combat experience, making it difficult for women to get promoted. Almost all of the top ranking military members are men for this reason.

7.Women Can Be More Effective than Men in Gaining Intelligence From Women and Children: In places like Afghanistan, where women can be stgmatized for speaking with a man they are not related to or married to, female soldiers have had greater success in gaining intelligence from local women. They have also had greater success gaining intelligence from children.

8.Women Can Enter Areas Barred to Men: In nations like Afghanistan, where male strangers are frequently barred from entering women’s rooms, women have been able to search other women’s rooms for contraband. There are other areas, like women’s sections in mosques, that are frequently off-limits to men.

9.Women Are Sometimes More Physically Suited to Combat than Men: In the case of combat pilots, women are actually more suited physically to dealing with g-forces than men. Because women have shorter blood vessel routes in their necks, they are less likely to black out from it than men are. However, for decades, military leadesr operated under the assumption that women would be less able to deal with g forces. There are probably more areas like this where women’s unique physical characteristics are advantages, not disadvantages. For example, in a tank, wouldn’t it be better to have smaller soldiers? Just for the sake of space?

I wish Hegar luck with her lawsuit. Any qualified woman who can meet the physical requirements necessary for front-line combat should have the opportunity to serve and recieve credit for that service.

Hegar’s Lawsuit
Sisters in Arms, a film about women in combat
Where a Woman’s Place is on the Front Lines Joshua E. Keating at Foreign Policy.


  1. emmawolf says:

    These are some great points. Thanks for compiling all this info.

  2. JustTheTruth says:

    Will they be so happy when they are singled out by the enemy and raped on camera? Are you ready for that?

    • Laura says:

      That is already a risk that servicewomen take since they are already in combat. They are just not officially in combat. Over 100 American women have died and over 800 have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      And yes, I’m ready for what you describe. Both men and women get raped in wars. It’s part of warfare and the soldiers who sign up for it know that it is a risk they take.

      Do I think female soldiers will still be happy that they get the privilege of officially being in frontline combat even though it means greater risks? Absolutely.

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