Women in Combat Arms: The MilSpouse Perspective

female soldiers

There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether women should be allowed to serve in combat arms positions. I’ve heard all the arguments on either side of the issue. There’s the line of thought that men have a natural instinct to protect women and this inclination will put them at further risk. There’s the line of thought that most women can’t meet the physical demands required of combat unit troops. There are those who argue that women already serve in combat. Female service members have been kidnapped, injured and died on the front lines (whatever “front lines” mean these days). And finally, there’s the argument that introducing women into traditionally male units will undermine morale.

Recently, I read the perspective from a female soldier who also happens to be an Army wife and I thought it was interesting given that she wears two hats. Among other things, she took exception to the fact that some military wives were worried about sexual misconduct and rising divorce rates if combat units were opened to female service members. I see her point and I’ve read this in other forums. Automatically assuming that female service members are “home-wreckers” would be an insult to those who honorably serve their country. And while that might be the sexy angle of this story — the one that get’s the most attention, it seems to me there are more important considerations to take into account when examining this issue.

One thing that bothered me about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debate was the rush to pick a side without rationally thinking through all the issues. If you opposed repealing DADT, you were a backward bigot who hated gays and if you favored it, you were a left-wing radical determined to push social engineering on a unique institution. I talked to people who had no aversion to homosexuality and opposed the repeal, and people who personally opposed homosexuality but had no opposition to repealing the policy. Many of the chattering classes (professional and otherwise) seemed to base their opinion on whether or not they favored homosexual rights in a civilian context. Let’s face it, the military is much more complex than the civilian workforce. In that vein, reducing the Women in Combat Arms debate to a mere gender discrimination issue (they’re not being fair to women) would be a disservice to everyone involved. There’s a lot to consider. Whatever your position, let’s hope this debate is more thoughtful than the DADT debate was.

Speaking of positions…. What’s yours? Do you oppose or support women serving in combat units? Why or why not?

About the Author


Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

  • nybridgy

    Women already are. Take combat MPs for example. I have been in three different MP units as a commo specialist and the female MPs are right there being gunners, on QRF (quick reaction force), gate duty, and breach teams. Not only do they do that in the field and on deployment but they protect us here in garrison clearing buildings, dealing with domestic calls, being prison guards and being first responders in emergency calls, which are all just as scary. So I say that I’ve already seen it.

    • Scott

      nybridgy – go back and actuallu read the Heading. It says “Women in COMBAT ARMS” that is not the same as being female in an MP unit or medical unit or logistics unit. Being a GUNNER on top of a vehicle is no where near the same as being an infantry soldier humping a ruck for 5-10 miles. AND before anyone says that is not what we do now in the current wars. That is STILL a requirement to be able to do. This war may not always be the kind of war we fight. You STILL have to be able to perform that mission IF called to.

  • Gmon

    As a former Infantry soldier, I have no problem with any one joining the ranks as long as the standards do not change. The soldier should meet that standard……………no matter who you are, period!

    • Scott

      TOO late at SWIC they are ALREADY screwing it up by having females come there for training BUT not require anything more than JUST a passing score on the PT test, and they are having SERIOUS problems with females and males being together.

    • Amanda

      I have been doing PT for 3 months and will keep doing PT until I can meet the standards or do better. My plan is to enlist next year and I want to be a Infantry soldier. Yes, I am a female.

    • Amanda

      I want to pass or do better than the asking standard for men. I am mentally strang and doing PT.

  • armygirlarmywife

    Excellent point, and thanks for the shout-out!

  • Penny

    I think if the women can meet the same standards as men as far as the PT tests and I’m assuming they take weapons test too, then go for it. But right now they don’t have to meet the same standards {I think, honestly I don’t know much about it}

    For me, personally, my husband is a big guy, and if he’s shot, I want to know that if there is a woman out there with him, she’s strong enough to pull him out of harms way if he can’t move himself. He shares this same view.

  • Nurse G

    I personally do not believe that women should be in a combat situation, that is just me. However, IF a woman is qualified, pulls her weight, and can hump my 6ft 4in, 220lb husband out of harms way and wants to be there; go for it!

  • Becka

    I highly doubt that the majority of women will be able to handle the physical demands, but see this as no reason to automatically exclude ALL women off the bat. There are unusually strong women out there, and if the standards are upheld, I see no good reason to deny them the opportunity to serve in this way.

    Let me be clear: nobody who does not pull their weight should be tolerated; nobody who is not physically strong enough should be tolerated; nobody who does not have the necessary intelligence, aggression, mental stability, etc. should be tolerated. This goes for men and women, and frankly, in some jobs there will always be significantly more men that can qualify based on strength alone. If the standards are upheld, though, I see no problem.

    Personally, I am a women looking into the military, and there is no way I am strong enough for a lot of combat positions, so I am not one of the exceptions, at least not based on my current fitness level. Still there are a lot of things I can do to serve.

    @Kiley As for the time of the month argument, yeah that could be inconvenient. Still with birth control it might not be that much of an issue. I know a lot of women will go on birth control to stop their period for Beast at USMA and with new birth control, their is often no medical reason to have a period for quite some time.

    Sorry for how long this went.

  • Drew

    A comment on the not having to have your period every month, just how good for you do think chemically suppressing natural functions of your body are, especially for long periods. The procedure involves consuming chemicals/hormones, and is pretty much akin to males taking performance enhancing chemicals. Which is not supported by your CofC or Gov.

    I guess its one of those points that you CAN do it, but just how smart is it to actually do it.

  • Baron

    Since women demand to be treated equaly as men, they definatly SHOULD be put in MOS 11B10 –
    INFANTRY!!! ( I am a disabled infantry soldier from the war in Vietnam). Enough said!!!

  • jon Wallenius

    As Vietnam infantry grunt I cannot fathom how naive women soldiers are to the reality of combat. Let me give you one word .. bayonet.

  • Guest

    As a military wife and a civilian that works with mostly military men, I am very concerned about the fact that sexual harrassment, rape, etc. accusations/convictions have escalated this year (from what I understand) and now we are talking about putting more women in remote, close-quarters with the men? I hear the stories that already go on about the sexual encounters and infidelities. I don’t mean to dishoner anyone, male or female, that does not fit into that profile, but seriously.
    It sounds a bit petty as I put it on paper but I am concerned about it. It seems that it is hard enough for both men and women to be without physical contact with the other sex, and although there are many opportunities in other places, it seems that in a remote, small unit somewhere where everyone sleeps right next to each other, that it would be quite a distraction from the jobs they need to be doing 100%.

  • EODixon

    Maybe some of the marital issues guys are having is because they are in environments with no women? If you add women into the situation, a lot of the behavior that guys do because they’re “with the boys” goes away. And as to anyone that says women are less aggressive… yes. But we’re also much more prone to make smart (safe) decisions and think through a situation before acting.

    Also, I’ve never heard of an expectation where every fighter in combat has to be able to haul around a 200+ guy as part of some qualifier for admittance. This is why we work in teams, patrols, and the like. Maybe a chick can’t sling a big dude over her shoulder, but she can sure as hell provide covering fire and suppression while someone else does.

  • Medicman78

    Some of my friends and I are having a conversation and they agree with my feelings, but have said my comment was worded poorly- in the negative toward women in a way. So, here is my revised statement, which is more gender friendly and unbiased. Since there are both sexes in the services already they need to do away with all physical combat related tests separated by gender period. Before all the special ops guys come hunt me down hear me out. There should be A standard.. one.. period.. job specific. To make this easy, cost and time effective this is how it would work. The Army for example already wen to great lengths to make a separate grading system for females.. instead of throwing it out.. reuse and rename it. The current “MALE” standard would be combat related jobs. If you can pass this test regardless of gender you can be combat operations. The current “FEMALE” standard would be non-combat jobs. If you choose to take and pass this test whether you are male or female you would be barred from combat arms. Likewise. Currently the tests to become special operations are even harder than the regular male combat arms tests. Prior to women in the military there was one standard. Combat arms. Then there was a harder standard to be special operations. I say leave it that way. Whether you are male or female, if you want to be combat arms, you have to be able to do/perform/execute XYZ. If you want to be support, records, cook, personnel actions, legal, etc you once again with NO gender bias whether you are male, female, green, martian, zebra.. you have to be able to do/perform/execute ABC. If you want to be special ops you have to pass the combat arms tests.. AND THEN.. pass the HARDER… special operations requirements.. there will no longer be a “female” column on ANY test. Remove gender from the debate ALLTOGETHER. No more b*tching, complaining, and whining. EVERY one regardless of sex is given a truly equal opportunity to excel. :)

  • Its not that easy

    im in the infantry right now on deployment and like the rest of the guys i say fuck no. For one we still go on the long ass ruck marches it hasnt stopped yet and never will. 2 EODixon you obviously never had a buddy injured in combat, its important that you can carry your own and weight plus that of the man next to you for a god damn reason, how would you like it if a recoiless rifle (shoot through anything even mraps) took you out and put you in a critical condition and the only person that can get you too safety can barely carry a 240. Your still getting shot at bleeding out while weak ass who thought it was all easy is struggling to even get your back off the ground, and now instead of just one man down and us trying to gain fire superiority we now have to people down and now its gonna be even harder to gain superiority and think about how we’re gonna get those two to safety and medevac’d out.

    Next paragraph, just being physically fit and knowing how to clear a room (which most known 11 series mos’s do wrong anyway) doesnt qualify you in our mos and even though we stress being physically fit its not the only thing you have to look at. Women already have a hard time getting along with eachother and we do have our own drama, we dont need any more distracting internal problems than what we already have. If when are ever finally able to join the infantry we’re all (men already in) gonna get sharped and EO’d out anyway because of the way we talk and act on a regular basis, we cuss more than sailors, we’re complete assholes even to the guy to our right and our left, etc and when i say we curse i mean we curse and it gets bad to where its worse than a drill sergeant, not every woman is emotional but you do have the few. She can take getting her ass chewd for fucking up in garrison hows she gonna handle getting yelled at when we get ambushed?

    Soft hearts for the other gender, we argue and bicker of women enough as it already is, the “female co-workers” will only make that rise, ive noticed that if she dont already belong to someone the moment she walks in all eyes and minds are on her, not to mention it can create favoritism, if shes cute enough her nco would probably look past her fuck up but if i did the same he’d completely destroy me due to the fact of gender difference, unless he’s gay he doesnt give two fucks if he make a good impression on me or not.