USA — Panel Says Rescind Policy on Women in Combat

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2011 — A com­mis­sion estab­lished to study diver­si­ty among mil­i­tary lead­ers is rec­om­mend­ing that the Defense Depart­ment rescind its pol­i­cy that pre­vents women from being assigned to ground com­bat units below the brigade lev­el.
In a report issued today, the Mil­i­tary Lead­er­ship Diver­si­ty Com­mis­sion rec­om­mends that the depart­ment and the ser­vices elim­i­nate com­bat exclu­sion poli­cies for women, as well as oth­er “bar­ri­ers and incon­sis­ten­cies, to cre­ate a lev­el play­ing field for all qual­i­fied ser­vice mem­bers.”

Retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles, who chaired the com­mis­sion, said the rec­om­men­da­tion –- one of 20 in the report and the only one spe­cif­ic to women –- is one way the con­gres­sion­al­ly man­dat­ed body sug­gests the mil­i­tary can get more qual­i­fied women into its more-senior lead­er­ship ranks.

“We know that [the exclu­sion] hin­ders women from pro­mo­tion,” Lyles said in an inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. “We want to take away all the hin­drances and cul­tur­al bias­es” in pro­mo­tions.

The com­mis­sion was estab­lished as part of the 2009 Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act to eval­u­ate and assess poli­cies that pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for pro­mo­tion and advance­ment of women and racial and eth­nic minori­ties in the armed forces.

The 1994 com­bat exclu­sion pol­i­cy, as writ­ten, pre­cludes women from being “assigned” to ground com­bat units, but women have for years served in ground com­bat sit­u­a­tions by serv­ing in units deemed “attached” to ground units, Lyles said. That dis­tinc­tion keeps them from being rec­og­nized for their ground com­bat expe­ri­ence — recog­ni­tion that would enhance their chances for pro­mo­tion, he said.

“If you look at today’s bat­tle­field — in Iraq and Afghanistan — it’s not like it was in the Cold War, when we had a defined bat­tle­field,” Lyles said. “Women serve -– and they lead –- mil­i­tary secu­ri­ty, mil­i­tary police units, air defense units, intel­li­gence units –- all of which have to be right there with com­bat vet­er­ans in order to do the job appro­pri­ate­ly.”

Women serv­ing in com­bat envi­ron­ments are being shot at, killed and maimed, Lyles said.

“But they’re not get­ting the cred­it for being in com­bat arms,” he said, “[and] that’s impor­tant for their con­sid­er­a­tion for the most senior flag ranks — three stars and four stars, pri­mar­i­ly.”

In the commission’s out­reach to mil­i­tary lead­ers, Lyles said, at least a cou­ple of ser­vice lead­ers thought there would be lit­tle inter­est among women to serve in com­bat. But when the com­mis­sion brought in a pan­el of com­mis­sioned and enlist­ed women from dif­fer­ent ser­vices, “that’s cer­tain­ly not what we picked up” from talk­ing to them, he said.

“I did­n’t hear, ‘Rah, rah, we want to be in com­bat,’ ” he said, “but I also did­n’t hear, ‘We don’t want to be in com­bat.’ What they want is an equal oppor­tu­ni­ty to serve where their skills allow them to serve. Remov­ing the bar­ri­ers for that, and remov­ing the bar­ri­ers to them get­ting cred­it for that, was our No. 1 focus.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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