Truman National Security Project

Women in Combat: The Changing Roles of Women in the U.S. Military

By Stephanie Dreyer | 2.21.13
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Combat Veteran Kayla Williams: Rescinding the Combat Exclusion Rule Brings Policy in Line with Reality

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Washington, D.C. – Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the elimination of the ground combat exclusion rule for women in the military. Sec. Panetta stated his desire to move forward with a plan to eliminate all gender-based barriers to service. The services will have until January 2016 to make a case that some positions should remain closed to women.

Today, at the Truman Project/CNP Capitol Hill Office, former U.S. Army Captain Mike Breen and female combat veteran Kayla Williams discussed the effects that Secretary Panetta’s decision will have on current and future generations of servicemembers, and outlined which barriers will be the most challenging to overcome.

Kayla Williams is a former sergeant and linguist in a military intelligence company of the US Army. She is the author of a memoir, Love My Rifle More Than You, and she serves as a Truman National Security Project Fellow and on the Army Education Advisory Committee.

Williams is fully supportive of Secretary Panetta’s decision but cautioned that it will take time to implement the new order. She said, “Rescinding the combat exclusion policy is a validation of the honorable service of the American women who have served in every conflict since the Revolutionary War, and in particular the more than 280,000 U.S. women who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade – especially those who have received awards for their valor, or been wounded in combat. However, implementation presents numerous challenges for the military; successful integration of women into all currently closed jobs and units will require clear vision, accountability, and strong leadership.”

Mike Breen, Executive Director for Truman Project and the Center for National Policy served alongside Special Operations Forces as a U.S. Army captain. Breen said, “The decision to allow women to serve in combat is a tremendous step forward and the fact that the final push has come from within the military speaks volumes for how vital women have become to operational success. Maintaining physical standards for direct-fire combat is difficult for anyone — man or woman — so if a woman can do it, then I am all for it.”

In 1994, the Department of Defense enacted the “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule,” which barred women from ground combat jobs (such as the infantry and artillery) and from being assigned to “units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”

The nature of modern warfare means that the traditional distinction between the ‘front line’ and ‘behind the line no longer exist,’ ensuring that women often face the same risks of being attacked by the enemy as their male counterparts. More than 150 female servicemembers have died and more than 800 have received the Purple Heart in connection with wounds suffered on the field of battle during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

By rescinding the 1994 rule, Sec. Panetta is opening the door for female servicemembers to be assigned to jobs and units from which they were previously excluded and allowing military units to have the best people on their teams regardless of gender.




The Truman National Security Project is a leadership training institute that recruits, trains and positions forward-thinking leaders to advocate for and implement policies that strengthen American security, our nation’s economy, and human rights and democracy at home and around the world.

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