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Defense Policy Changes Put Women in Combat

Defense Policy Changes Put Women in Combat

Defense Policy Changes Put Women in Combat

In a historic decision, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) announced in 2015 that it would be opening all military positions to women, including those in combat units. This decision marked a significant shift in US defense policy and paved the way for women to serve in previously male-dominated combat roles. In this article, we will explore the changes in defense policy that have allowed women to serve in combat and the impact of these changes.


Before the DoD’s policy changes, women were prohibited from serving in direct combat roles, such as infantry, armor, and special operations forces. However, women have been serving in the military in increasing numbers since the 1970s, with many serving in support roles.

Changes in Defense Policy

In 2013, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the exclusion of women from certain combat positions would be lifted. This policy change was the result of a three-year review process by the DoD. The review concluded that female service members had already been serving in harm’s way, and that opening all positions to women would improve military effectiveness.

In 2015, then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that the DoD would be opening all positions in the military to women, including those in combat units. Carter emphasized that the policy changes were based on the idea that every job in the military should be open to anyone who is qualified and capable of performing it.

Impact of the Policy Changes

The policy changes have had a significant impact on the military and on gender roles in general. Since the changes, women have been able to join previously all-male combat units, attend infantry officer training, and compete for positions in special operations forces.

The changes have also increased opportunities for women in the military and have helped to break down gender barriers. According to a study by the RAND Corporation, opening all military positions to women could increase women’s representation in the military and improve talent management.

However, some have raised concerns about the physical and psychological demands of combat roles and the potential impact on military readiness. These concerns have led to ongoing discussions about the standards for combat roles and the training required for women to meet those standards.


The defense policy changes that have allowed women to serve in combat units represent a significant shift in US military policy. The changes have increased opportunities for women in the military, improved talent management, and broken down gender barriers. However, ongoing discussions about standards and training requirements show that there is still work to be done to ensure that women are able to serve in combat roles safely and effectively.

As of 2013, women in all five branches of the United States military will be allowed to officially serve in combat roles and be paid accordingly.  Last year, several women’s organizations filed lawsuits over Department of Defense policies that continued to forbid women from being considered combat troops.

In total, approximately 237,000 combat based jobs that were not previously available to women have been opened up to them this February.  The Department of Defense is planning to integrate these combat units using similar tactics to when the United States Navy began allowing women to serve on submarine missions.

According to Defense officials, the department is engaged in a continuing process this year to stop gender discrimination and barriers to women serving in combat roles and other non-traditional gender roles.

Proponents of these changes have pointed to the fact that while women were not previously allowed to be considered combat troops, thousands of female soldiers have already become casualties in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In contemporary urban warfare, the lines between combat troops and auxiliary or support troops are very blurred.  It was often impossible for women to avoid being in the line of fire, even if they were not considered to be combat troops, yet they did not receive the same pay or benefits as active combat troops.

Because combat roles also tend to have a bigger effect on promotions, women in the military had complained that they felt they were being kept from advancing by the no-women policy for combat troops.  This created something of a glass ceiling in military branches, where it became much easier for men to be promoted than women with similar skills and capabilities.  With the new policy in place, women will be better able to pursue positions in the military that would help them to advance their career in the long term.

The new policy raises a number of interesting legal questions.  Perhaps the biggest is what will become of the Selective Service, or draft, system.  Currently, only males are required to register for Selective Service.  When this policy has been challenged by women’s organizations, the Supreme Court has said that it was fair because only men could be combat troops.

Now that women are allowed in combat, the biggest reason judges have cited for keeping women out of the draft is gone.  No case has yet been filed regarding the Selective Service issue since the Defense decision.

Source: defense.gov, whitehouse.gov