Army Revised Combat Rules For Women

Rowan Scarborough reports in today’s Washington Times that the Army has, in violation of federal law, made it more likely that women will see combat duty.

Army revised rules for women (p. 1)

The Army drafted new language about a regulation barring women in combat-support units 11 days after the Army’s top civilian told Congress there would be no changes. A military advocacy group has asked the Pentagon inspector general to investigate the discrepancy and whether the Army’s “transformed” brigades violate the combat exclusion as they fight in Iraq. Army and Pentagon spokesmen say the Army is not violating any regulations or laws in the assignment of female soldiers to the new brigades. “We believe the Army is in compliance,” said Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s top personnel official. Department of Defense “reviews of the policy have not identified conflict between Army concept and current policies and statutes.”

The Army is transforming brigades so they can deploy faster, with support units in tow as “organic” to the unit. The conflict is that current policy bars Forward Support Companies (FSCs) from being embedded if they include women. But if the Army obeys standards set out in the policy — and keeps the Forward Support Companies as it was ordered to do — it would not have enough soldiers to fill the companies, according to internal Army documents previously discovered by The Washington Times. Other internal documents have argued that the Army should eliminate the collocation rule.

The issue involves the part of the policy that says mixed-sex support units are prohibited from embedding — or collocating — with land combat units. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey told the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees in Jan. 13 letters: “No change to the extant policy is required.” Army regulations bar women from support units that “collocate routinely with units assigned a direct ground combat mission.” Pentagon guidelines approved in 1994 say women are barred “where units and positions are doctrinally required to physically collocate and remain with direct ground combat units that are closed to women.”

Therein lies the discrepancy. A “Women in the Army” point paper, dated Jan. 24 and drafted within the Army secretary’s office, states the policy a different way. It says women are barred from units, “which routinely collocate with those units conducting an assigned direct ground combat mission.” The addition of the word “conducting” is significant, because it implies that if the combat battalion is not in the midst of fighting it can collocate with mixed-sex support units.

Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, said the new language would violate the Army policy. She sent a five-page letter this week to Pentagon Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz asking for an investigation. Mrs. Donnelly said the 3rd Infantry Division, the first to transform its brigades into smaller “units of action,” is violating the policy in Iraq by shifting women in and out of FSCs depending on the level of fighting.

Donnelly is clearly correct here and the Army is being disengenous. The problem, though, is that the “no women in combat” policy is in direct contravention of the policy of having women in the Army. Even during the Cold War, it was obvious that the concept of “rear area” was increasingly fictitious. Indeed, that was a major assumption of the AirLand Battle doctrine. In the era of asymmetrical conflict, let alone during stabilization operations, the distinction is futher eroded. While an infantry or special forces soldier is still more likely to get into a firefight than a finance clerk, support soldiers like MPs and transport specialists are quite likely to be involved in combat. The bottom line is that we’re going to have to purge the ground forces of female soldiers–a non starter for both political and practical purposes–or get over the idea that we can protect women in a combat zone from combat.

Update (1013): There’s a related story today in the Saturday edition of the Newport News Daily Press (C3):

Female General: Doors Opening For Army Women

Maj. Gen. Ann Dunwoody says the nature of the Iraq war means that females face danger, just as males do. The casualty toll mounts for women in combat operations in Iraq. None of them is in the Army infantry. The law doesn’t allow it. “Doors continue to open for women” in the Army, Maj. Gen. Ann Dunwoody said Friday at Fort Monroe in a celebration of Women’s History Month. “There are 17,000 women serving in Southwest Asia today.” And, she said, “more than 30 heroines have paid the ultimate price.”

They have died as gun-truck drivers. They have died manning .50-caliber machine guns. They have died in a dozen other ways, supplying infantry soldiers in the Army and Marines or fighting next to them. But not as one of their number.


But that’s the nature of the war, which is being fought on a “nonlinear, asymmetrical, noncontiguous battlefield,” Dunwoody said. “It exempts no one from being a soldier.”

Dunwoody, who wears an Airborne badge and the shoulder patch of the renowned 82nd Airborne Division, is in charge of the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee.

Being a member of the 82nd, of course, has nothing to do with being in the infantry. Still, I’d prefer people that work for support commands to wear a different patch, even if it’s just the XVIIIth Airborne Corps patch.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Clint Lovell says:

    Two of my daughters have served in combat areas. One just got back from a tour in Fallujah where she ran her Hummer over an IED and blown out of the vehicle in the resulting explosion. She was also almost killed on two other occasions when mortars impacted near her while she was working on base.

    There are no rear areas. There are no longer any roles in the ground forces that can be considered to be non-combat.