Women in Combat

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Study: Clarify rules for women in combat


By Matthew Cox - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Aug 8, 2007 8:49:11 EDT

The Army is following Defense Department rules for deploying female soldiers on the battlefield, but policies governing their assignment are “difficult to understand,” a recent Rand think tank study concluded.
“Neither the letter nor the spirit” of Army and Defense Department policies is clear, said Margaret Harrell, lead author of the congressionally mandated report and a senior social scientist at the nonprofit research organization, in a Rand press release.
“A large part of the problem appears to be that the policies do not anticipate the style of combat experienced in Iraq where there is no clearly defined battlefield,” she said.
DoD policy allows women to be assigned to all positions where they are qualified, but excludes them from assignments to “units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground,” the release states.
The Army has a separate policy, created in 1992, that excludes women from jobs that are “assigned a routine mission to engage in direct combat, or which collocate routinely with units assigned to a direct combat mission,” the release states.
Since 2003, however, female solders have been performing dangerous jobs such as manning machine guns on military convoys that routinely come under enemy attack.
Some have distinguished themselves in battle.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman since World War II to receive a Silver Star for her actions during a March 2005 enemy attack on a convoy near Baghdad.
Hester’s unit, the 617th MP Company, was shadowing a supply convoy south of Baghdad when insurgents opened fire on the 29-vehicle convoy.
The squad of nine MP soldiers riding in three Humvees moved into flanking positions and counterattacked the insurgent position.
Hester attacked a trench position with 40mm grenades from the M203 grenade launcher on her M4. She then helped clear two trenches, where she killed three insurgents with the M4.
When the firing ceased, 27 insurgents were dead, six were wounded and one was captured.
Because researchers found there was no shared understanding of the meaning of many terms used in the policies — including key items such as “enemy,” “forward or well-forward,” and “collocate” — the Rand report recommends that the DoD revise its assignment policies for women to provide greater clarity and to better reflect the changing nature of warfare, the release states.
Army G1 spokesman Lt. Col. Darryl Darden said he had not seen the Rand study, but said the Army is working to “align its policy with DoD’s policy.”
Researchers also say policymakers should consider whether a revised policy should exclude women from units and positions where they have performed successfully, and also should consider how much assignment policies in the Army and other services differ from the overall Defense Department policy, the release states
 
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