Are US women banned from combat?

Kathryn Lopez of the National Review Online says “Women are currently banned from combat,” in her column about women in the line of fire.
Lopez goes on to lambast Democratic Party presidential candidates, but that’s not what I’m asking.

Are US women soldiers and marines really banned from combat? That’s not the impression I get from TV and print stories about the troops in Iraq. It’s a narrow, factual question. It’s tempting to argue with Lopez’s opinions, but please don’t do it in this thread. You can start one in GD for that. Thank you.

They are banned from front line positions that are most likely to result in hand to hand or reciprocal fire combat. However, they often carry weapons and are trained on them so situations can easily arise where they are in a combat situation even if the are assigned to a maintenance crew. There are a few female fighter pilots the last time I checked as well. The statement is technically false.

Women are not ‘banned’ per se from combat, they are not permitted to be assigned to the majority of Combat MOSs (Job Specialties) in the Army.
So a woman cannot be a 11B (Infantryman) or a 19K (Tank Crewman) but they can be a 14E (Patriot Missile Battery Controller) or a 13A (Field Artillery Officer)

The Combat MOSs are listed Here

Keeping women away from combat requires that you keep combat away from women. Both end up being harder than you might imagine.


“Well, it seems to me that you have seen too much in too few years.” ~ Mick Jagger ~

Women serve in long-range artillery units, and they fight all the time. Women serve in Army (and Air Force) combat aircraft. Lots of MPs are women, they fight (and get shot at) constantly. So in a word, no, they are not banned from combat.

This may all be well and good in a conventional war but when fighting a counter insurgency like we are in Iraq there isn’t really a defined “front line.” The front line is wherever the insurgents decide to strike at a particular moment. The battlefield is constantly changing. This is why when you read casualty reports it isn’t unusual to see several women listed, despite the fact they aren’t breaking into houses in the dead of night or undertaking other high risk activities. They might’ve just been having a stroll in the Green Zone when the insurgents decided to launch some mortars or maybe they were in the wrong supply convoy at the wrong time.

Still, it’s obvious that the DoD tries to limit the amount of combat seen by woman soldiers. What’s the justification? Do other western countries have similar policies?

The UK likewise prohibits females from serving in dedicated front line combat units in the British Army, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment.
The Royal Navy surface fleet is open to all, although women are excluded from Submarine duty for other reasons IIRC.
The RAF does permit female combat pilots and navigators.

Despite the rules women are in combat in Iraq.

Privacy concerns?

No, the RN says the chemicals on submarines could cause birth defects should a sailor become pregnant.

There’s a Thai-American named Tammy Duckworth who lost both of her legs and hurt her right arm when the helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down in Iraq three years ago. The link above says she “chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat jobs open to women.” She ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket in Illinois last year but lost.

My guess would be that it’s largely the same basic social pragmatism that has kept women out of (formal) combat for millennia. Healthy young females are what the existence of the next generation depends on. You don’t want to waste them as cannon fodder if you can avoid it.

But this forum is not about guesses, so here are some actual facts about the Defense Department’s rules for women and combat (in the endnotes):

So what the DoD is trying to avoid is having women “engaging an enemy on the ground” where they might be “exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical combat with the hostile force’s personnel”. Presumably they either want to minimize the risk of female troops getting killed or injured, or fear that female troops would be at a disadvantage in “direct physical combat” due to inferior size and strength, or both. Hmmm, that’s still a guess about motivation rather than a factual answer, though.

That may be the theory, but it hasn’t been the reality in Afghanistan. At least 80 American soldiers/marines have died there since the war began. The USA Today says that there are more than 11,000 women serving in Iraq.According to this CNN report from 2005:

… like Jessica Lynch, who was a supply clerk.