By Col. Ellen Haring, USAR
Best Defense guest columnist
Headlines that claim that "Few Army Women Want Combat Jobs" leave me scratching my head and wondering
what constitutes a "few women" and why this is even a newsworthy headline?
I am one of the Army women who took the survey that asked us about our
interest in serving in combat jobs. At a briefing in December, the Army
reported the results of the propensity to serve in combat specialties survey to
the Defense Advisory Council on Women in the Services. The Army reported that
22 percent of currently serving women (active, guard, and reserve) were
moderately or very interested in transferring to combat specialties. According
to 2011 data available at the Defense Manpower Data Center, and rounding down
to the nearest 5,000 level, there are 150,000 guard and reserve women and
75,000 women on active duty. Simple math reveals that 49,500 women in the Army
are interested in transferring to combat jobs. That doesn't seem like a "few"
On April 10, 2014, the Marine Corps briefed their survey results. At a
briefing at Henderson Hall in Arlington, VA, Brigadier General George Smith
applauded the results of their surveys that showed an even higher level of
interest. Apparently, 40 percent of women Marines want the opportunity to serve
in combat jobs, bringing the total number of women in just the Army and the
Marine Corps that want these opportunities to well over 50,000 women. What
neither the Army nor the Marines briefed was how many men "want" combat jobs. It
would have been interesting to see comparative figures.
But these data only reveal part of the story: that many women do want
combat jobs, not what women are already doing. After all, we joined the Army
with the expectation that we would be soldiers; we didn't join the Peace Corps.
Via a Freedom of Information Act request made to Army Human Resources Command,
I received data documenting Army women's ground combat service. Since 9/11 and
ending last month, the data revealed that Army women have been awarded 9,134
combat action badges. According to Army Award Regulation 600-8-22, combat
action badges are awarded to soldiers who, while serving in a hostile
environment, "are actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy, and
performing satisfactorily in accordance with the prescribed rules of
engagement." Additionally, 1,044 Army women medics have received the combat
medical badge, which requires that the medic be "assigned or attached to or
under operational control of any ground Combat Arms units of brigade or smaller
size, who satisfactorily perform medical duties while the unit is engaged in
active ground combat, provided they are personally present and under fire."
These badges are service-awarded distinctions that simply document satisfactory
service in ground combat.
Other awards are even more revealing. Soldiers who receive a valor
distinction, as denoted by a "V" device on their awards, have participated in
"acts of heroism involving conflict with an armed enemy." Army women have received
147 Army Commendation Medals with the "V" device, 13 Bronze Star medals with
the "V" device, and one Legion of Merit with the "V" device. Two Army women
have received Silver Stars. The Silver Star is awarded to a soldier for
"gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States."
Army women alone (not including women in the other services) have
received more than 10,000 ground combat awards and decorations since 9/11. But
today, people continue to debate whether women, who volunteered to be soldiers,
are "interested," "willing," or "able" to perform in ground combat. Our record
attests to a reality that already exists.
It is time to move beyond this debate and let women perform in any
capacity for which we qualify.
Haring is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.