Hunter Bucks Pentagon on Women in Combat

Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is clashing with the Pentagon on the issue of women in combat.

Hunter bucks the top brass (Washington Times, p.1)

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter took the extraordinary step of bucking the Pentagon on a major issue, after he failed to convince senior defense officials to change an Army policy on women in combat. The California Republican has been a staunch ally of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the armed forces on nearly every aspect of how they fight the war against Islamic terrorists. But when it came to women in combat, an important issue to cultural conservatives, he broke with the Pentagon last week and sided with the Republican party’s base.

Mr. Hunter put before the Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel an amendment to the 2006 defense authorization bill. The amendment would bar women from serving in Army forward support companies (FSCs) that embed, or collocate, with ground combat units. The amendment passed on a party-line vote and will be taken up by the full Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Mr. Hunter’s decision to take on the Pentagon came after he had a series of discussions with Mr. Rumsfeld’s staff and Army Secretary Francis Harvey, but he failed to convince them the Army was violating the current collocation rule. “The nation should not put women into the front lines of combat,” Mr. Hunter said. “In my judgment, we will cross that line soon unless we make policy decisions as we design the new Army.”

Hunter is certainly right that the current use of women is in violation of the law, which is aimed at keeping women from direct combat. Unfortunately, stabilization operations and counterinsurgency warfare do not recognize traditional battle lines. The only way to ensure that women are not placed in harm’s way is to keep them out of combat zones to begin with. For all practical purposes, that means no women in the military. That, like it or not, is a political non-starter.

The issue has been boiling since last year, when the Army redesigned combat brigades into lighter “units of action.” The Army describes them as modular units that deploy and fight with support units in tow. The 3rd Infantry Division now in Iraq is the first division to fight with units of action and has 13 FSCs. However, Pentagon policy bars women from serving in FSCs that routinely collocate with units assigned to ground combat roles. The Army itself describes the FSC role as “to provide direct and habitual combat service support to itself and the maneuver/fires/armed reconnaissance battalion.”

The Army, critics say, has moved to get around the rule by rewriting it without Congress’ approval. An internal Army memo previously reported by The Washington Times states that FSCs are only barred from combat units when they are “conducting” actual combat.

While the Constitution gives the president and his chain of command extraordinary latitude over military affairs, Congress has oversight authority. Hunter has every right to demand that the DoD follow the law. Hearings will likely reveal that the results of doing that will be unacceptable, requiring that the law be changed.

Having the law and practice be one and the same is a very good thing.

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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. Jim Henley says:

    You have “Hunter” adn “Bucks” in the same headline. That rocks!

  2. The Army recognizes that it needs to transform to meet the increasing asymmetric threat; similarly our policy makers need to shake out the mothballs and recognize the dynamics of the modern battlefield. We no longer have a front line, a “forward line of own troops,” where ostensibly troops in the rear were safer than those forward. Today’s threats are omni-directional, they encompass the entire battle space we operate in. Today, women are performing superbly in the GWOT – they serve in military police, military intelligence, and various support roles – they also fly planes and helicopters and attack our enemies with precision, vigor, determination.

    Congressman Hunter recently stated, “The American people have never wanted to have women in combat and this reaffirms that policy.” Perhaps the Congressman is out of touch? The American people want to be protected from those who wish to harm them and their families. We expect our military personnel to be dedicated, competent, and well-equipped to fight and win our nations wars. Reducing the role of female soldiers is discriminatory, risky, and imprudent.

    CSM (Ret) Steve Greer
    Sr Fellow, National Defense Council Foundation

  3. Barbara Breazeale says:

    My husband Bill Pozzi served in Vietnam as a Navy Seal and was in the reserves until activated a few days after 9/11/2001. He gladly fought in the Iraq war and was there for the very beginning of the battle. He served for almost six months and then he was injured and returned home. He was forced into retirement due to this injuries, but was and is a supporter of the way. I am too.

    We support you in this bill to bar women from combat. We believe that women are a vital part of the military and we cannot do without them, but not in battle. Women physically are not built to handle days on the road and imbedded battles. In Iraq, women officers and enlisted are despised and actually singled out by the Iraqi insurgents. America is not ready to have women brought home in body bags, it is horrible enough to have our young men die. If a woman is pregnant and she is in the Army, she is eligible to be sent within a few months of her child’s birth. How irrational is this? We have tons of non combat jobs for those women to do. Why would we want to tear moms from their kids. We have enough problems in our society without adding to it.

    Please continue to hammer this issue. The moms of America will be behind you 100%. If NOW has an issue, send them over to Iraq and they will soon change their mind.

    God bless you for your efforts.

  4. J.E. Deegan says:

    With all the ranting we hear from the feminists regarding gender equality, I’m surprized that more is nor being made of the women-in-combat issue. Why is it that women’s demands for equality don’t include assigning them to military combat units? They are, after all, equal to men, aren’t they? Why do women want equal everything else while eschewing equality in combat units?

    Is a woman’s life more valuable than a man’s? Is that why only men are expected to confront the enemy in battle and risk their lives?

    Frankly, I’m getting tired of women wanting to be judged equal to men on every issue except putting their lives on the line when our country is at war.

  5. Desiree Price says:

    I think women should be allowed to fight in direct combat just because a lot of women do want equality. This would be a huge step in the military for women. I think if we pass the physical test we should be able to be in any job that we would like to be in. A lot of people say they do not want women in direct combat because we will be taken from our children. Men have children too and they care and love them just as much as women do and the armed forces takes them from their children. I do not think it is fair just to put direct combat on the shoulders of men. Anybody of American forces can be victim to Iraqi insurgents not just women. There is no frontline and you do not know who the enemy are. It could be a child and that child could have a bomb strapped around its waist. I do not believe that insurgents will single out the women. They are going to try and kill the women just as much as they are trying to kill the men.