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Women In Combat?


J. D. Pendry


If youíre ready to explode on me with your opinion either for or against women serving in combat.Save your breath.Women are in combat.Thirty-five of them killed in action and 279 wounded.This has politicians concerned.Seems they passed a law some time ago prohibiting women from serving in units that might engage enemy forces in combat.So, for the record, 314 women have died or been wounded illegally.


Politicians are amusing.They get you into a predicament and then want to prosecute you for being there.In this case, they painted the Army into a corner.For years, they insisted that the Army open more branches of the service to women.Over time, the Army did.Now women serve in most units involved in direct Combat Support and Combat Service Support on a battlefield with a 360-degree front line.Any unit or solider occupying a piece of todayís urban terror battlefield is likely to engage enemy forces.


How did we get to where the Army breaks the law by having women in areas where contact with enemy combatants is likely?The devil is in the details as they say, or, in this case in the arithmetic.


The Womenís Army Corps (WAC) was in service from 1942 until 1978.Women served in administrative or medical support jobs.They were not in deployable units and were always well behind the identifiable front line.In 1973 when the military draft ended, there were 20,700 women in the active WAC.The total active Army strength was 787,534.


In 1978, the WAC disbanded and women integrated into the regular Army.By the end of 1978, women in the Army had more than doubled their 1973 strength reaching 56,584.The active Army strength in 1978 was 771,138.


Fast forward to 2004.The total active Army strength reported in its demographics profile for 2004 is 494,291 of which 72,683 are women.When you remove women from units that are likely to deploy for combat operations (for example the units of US Army Forces Command, our largest major Army command with strength of about 200,000 war fighters) the numbers of soldiers left to fill Combat Support and Combat Service Support units is a problem.


A recap of the numbers might give you a clearer picture.In 1973, our active Army strength was 787,534 of which 20,700 were women serving in the WAC.In 1978, when women integrated into the regular Army, our strength was 771,138 of which 56,684 were women.Today, of 494,291, 72,683 are women.Since 1973, the number of women serving in the active Army has almost quadrupled while active Army strength has reduced by nearly half.The women in the Army today represent more than two divisionís worth of soldiers in a 10 division Army.


How do we comply with the law and keep them (two divisionís worth of soldiers) out of units likely to engage in combat (considering our 360-degree front line) and still keep units up to deployable combat strength?The sensible choice is to assign women to jobs in all units commensurate with their training Ė and risk breaking the law.Or, considering our war with no front lines and to ensure compliance with the law, we redeploy all women out of Iraq and treat them as we did the WAC.


Women have proven that they can get the job done.I donít think potential combat is any more of a concern for most of them than it is for most menĖ at least not the women I know who are serving.They volunteered and trained for their jobs, as did the men.I think many of them are offended when politicians (or even their male counterparts) insist that we shield them from potential combat.Like it or not, the Army now has a Band of Brothers Ė and Sisters.


This is an issue for politicians, not soldiers, to resolve.Congress, who painted us into this corner, can help us comply with the law by taking the unlikely route of reactivating the WAC and reducing the strength of women in the Army to 1973 proportions.Of course, then weíll have to find men willing to volunteer for 60,000 plus open jobs.Or, they can repeal a law that makes no sense and serves no purpose but to hinder the Army in the performance of its mission.Maybe we can get a Congressional Committee to work on that.They donít appear to be working on anything else at the moment.



Department of the Army Historical Summary - 1974

Department of the Army Historical Summary - 1978

Army Demographics Profile 2004

Womenís Army Corps

US Army Forces Command



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J.D. Pendry is author of The Three Meter Zone, Random House/Ballantine.


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