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Women already fight, official says; this makes it official

by Matthew McClellan
Jan 29, 2013

Women in the Military

Graphic: Matthew McClellan/MEDILL Information source:

A timeline of women's progress in the military.

Women in the military will be able to officially engage in combat despite already fighting in battle, but there is no indication of how military training will be affected under the proposed rule change, a Chicago official said Tuesday.

Defense Department officials announced last week that a 1994 provision preventing women from engaging in direct combat would be overturned.

The 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule excluded women from “assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”

The provision defined direct ground combat as “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 force’s personnel.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, said the rescission of that provision is part of efforts to “remove gender-based barriers to service.”

Currently, nearly 202,000 women comprise 15 percent of the military’s 1.4 million active personnel. In the last 10 years, more than 280,000 women have been deployed to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In removing the restriction, the department’s goal “is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender,” Panetta said.

Col. Kevin Kelley, Chicago Public Schools Director of Military Instruction, said the change is in line with what some service women have already been doing. Kelley said that women in their current military positions may have engaged in direct combat while being part of a convoy or doing security detail with a unit that comes under attack.

“Now they could be assigned to roles in more direct combat units,” Kelley said, such as an infantry or ground combat unit.

Kelley said it remains to be seen how the change will affect military training, and according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of citizens are concerned with strengthening the military.

But Kelley said he thinks that “women will step up to meet” the high standards the military would like to maintain.

Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said the rescission of the combat ban is highly symbolic in that it is one of the last official policies that discriminates on the basis of sex.

In addition, Campbell said the new rule sends a greater message regarding women’s rights in general: If women can fight in combat, “women can do anything.”

Campbell said women will also have a “greater chance of rising in the ranks,” as about 70 percent of military generals come from the combat arms in which women were not able to participate before, but will once the ban is lifted.

Before women are able to take positions previously closed to them, service reviews and congressional notification procedures will be undertaken. Panetta charged military departments with submitting detailed plans by May 15 in order to expedite the integration process. The secretary expects complete integration by Jan. 1, 2016.