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Will women achieve equality in the US military?

June 28, 2017

In August 2015, a news story appeared about two women who had graduated from the army’s notoriously tough, gruelling Ranger training programme. This is the programme that army enlisted personnel and officers have to pass to belong to the 75th Ranger Regiment. 

First Lieutenant Shaye Haver and Captain Kristen Griest became the first women to pass the 62-day training course at Fort Benning in Georgia, USA, which involved long hikes through marshes, forests and mountains in the sweltering Georgia heat with ever-decreasing amounts of sleep and food and with back packs often weighing more than 100 lbs. However, the 75th Ranger Regiment is still closed to the two women. 

Captain Griest is quoted as saying, “We can handle the same things physically and mentally as men and we can deal with the same stresses as the men can.” A debate is raging in the Pentagon and military hierarchies as to whether women should be allowed into all areas of the military. In 2013, the Obama administration set a deadline to integrate women into all combat jobs by 2016 or to ask for a specific exemption by 1 January 2016. Captain Griest adds, “I do hope that with our performance in Ranger School that we have been able to inform that decision as to what they can expect from women in the military”. In effect, the proposed new regulations to admit women to combat positions is partly catching up with what happens in reality already. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq saw women soldiers, although not formally part of combat units, given ‘attachments’ to units which involved taking part in operations such as intelligence gathering and bomb disposal.     [

United States Navy

The Navy had earlier indicated that it did not intend to seek any exemptions for women joining the Seals. However, the leadership in the Marine Corps, which still trains male and female recruits separately, seems reluctant to accept women in the 93 percent male-dominated troops. Apparently, they have conducted a nine-month, $36 million study which shows that integrated units are slower, have more injuries and are less accurate in firing weapons. 

A public disagreement is revealed between General Joseph F Dunford Jr, commandant of the Marine Corps, and Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy and civilian head of the Marine Corps. The latter indicated that the study had been used to pick out summary findings biased toward keeping women out of combat roles, and that as far as he was concerned, the standards set were open to be met by either men or women. 

The summary of the findings is said to quote a 1992 presidential report that concluded: ‘Risking the lives of a military unit in combat to provide career opportunities or accommodate the personal desire or interest of an individual, or group of individuals, is more than bad military judgment. It is morally wrong.’ To further complicate the picture, General Dunford will take over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff week commencing 21st September, and in this position will be responsible for submitting recommendations to the secretary of defence for all the armed services. Officials in the Army, Navy and Air Force – which includes such elite forces as the Rangers, US Marines, Navy Seals and Delta Force - have previously indicated that they would be unlikely to seek exemption on integration of women. 

There has been huge change over time in the military, from racial integration in the 1940s to the lifting of the ban on open service by gay men and lesbians in 2011, and since 2013, 111,000 positions in the military have been opened to women. However, another 220,000 remain closed to women. The vast majority of these are in the Army, with about 3,700 in the Navy; and 4,100 jobs in the Air Force. Currently, more than 12 other nations have allowed the full admittance of women into their defence forces, including Israel and Australia.    

 See newspaper reports: ‘Marines wrestle over Gender’, Wall Street Journal, 11 September 2015 ‘Women Rangers break brass ceiling’, Financial Times, Weekend 22/23 August 2015 ‘Victory in gender war after US Navy Seals open doors to women’, The Times, 20 August 2015[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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