Are Women in the U.S. Military Ready for the Frontline of War?

In November 2013, history was made in the Marine Corps. For the first time, the graduating infantry class included three women who had endured a grueling nine week combat training course. They were the first women to do so as part of a Marine Corps pilot program that required women to meet the same minimum physical standards as men. Of the fifteen women that started with them, they were the only three to make it until the end.

Nevertheless, the three women are not bound for combat positions just yet.

In January of last year, the Department of Defense announced that the 1994 Combat Exclusion Rule, which restricted women from serving in frontline infantry, armor and special operations units, would be lifted. At Congress’ instruction, then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta instructed the services to develop plans for gender integration in combat roles, as well as a list of† positions that would be opened up to women. A January 2016 compliance deadline has been set.

Six months later, military officials began studies to determine the best methods of training and which roles, if any, should remain closed to women. The one point all military leaders agreed on, however, was that the requirements, including physical ones, were not going to be lowered for women. If they were going to be on the frontline with men, they had to make sure they could keep up.

The approaches toward meeting these gender-neutral goals reflect the uniqueness of the individual military branches.

The Marine Corps by nature is go hard or go home, which is exactly the way they began their training program. They sought volunteers interested in the program and put them directly into the infantry training programs, requiring them to meet the same minimum standards as men, though what was considered a perfect score differed slightly. After more than half of the women failed to reach even the minimum physical requirements, the Marine Corps has slowed down their timetable of having women in combat units by 2015. While no new timetable has been announced, they feel the delay is necessary to determine a new approach.

Some argue that its standards arenít the problem, itís the way women need to be trained. The Marines already have gender-specific boot camps, understanding that women need to take different approaches to reach the same goal.

The Army, however, has not put any women into combat training programs, choosing to first determine the physical requirements for specific combat roles. With a job-oriented focus, approximately 500 random soldiers from eight different brigades performed hundreds of tasks required in 31 specialties to create baseline requirements. They now have gender-neutral standards which will allow them to determine what specialties can be opened up to women.

While there are some combat jobs already opening up in other services such as the Navy, many question whether women should be part of ground forces.

When the announcement was made last January, Israelís Army, which has long been touted as the most gender integrated military force in the world, was seen as a guide. However, even though 92 percent of I.D.F. positions such as fighter pilots, infantry captains, and Humvee drivers are open to women, only 3 percent of them are held by women. Israel’s long history of women in combat has not made the idea of women killing and being killed any easier for its citizens to handle. Even if women are willing to volunteer, military structural resistance has made their appearance on the frontline limited.

Women being injured and killed in the more than decade long fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan has done little to change the minds of many Americans. Many soldiers, including women, believe that a ground war isnít a womanís place.

As Marine Captain Katie Petronio says, when it comes to combat, women are not created equal.

She agrees that some combat roles should definitely be opened up to the many capable female soldiers, but infantry should not be one of them. Her five years in service, including deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, have left her suffering much of the physical degradation that her male counterparts suffered, but at a much faster rate. Her 5 foot 3 inch frame is not the same as it once was, which at the beginning of her service would have probably allowed her to be one of the few women to pass the new minimum Corps requirements for infantry. The former college hockey player suffers from muscle degeneration, restless leg syndrome and non-hereditary infertility.

As she points out, there is no data on the effects the chemical, physical and mental demands of that frontline combat on women. As scientific studies of various diseases from AIDS to cancer have shown, women suffer the consequences of environmental stresses differently. This doesnít mean they are weaker or less qualified, it just means they are different.

When it comes to war, itís not about political correctness, itís about life and death.

She writes in the Marine Corps Gazette, ďThe bottom line is that the enemy doesnít discriminate, rounds will not slow down, and combat loads donít get any lighter, regardless of gender or capability. Even more so, the burden of command does not diminish for a male or female; a leader must gain the respect and trust of his/her Marines in combat. Not being able to physically execute to the standards already established at IOC, which have been battle tested and proven, will produce a slower operational speed and tempo resulting in increased time of exposure to enemy forces and a higher risk of combat injury or death.Ē

As women, weíve come a long wayÖbut is war really where we want to go?


Jim Ven
Jim Ven10 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S10 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa3 years ago

Thank you

.4 years ago

an open letter to the armed forces:

due to the world's unbeknownst participation in "the war on women," as well as to peoples' utmost tolerance of those who regard females as lesser people, men are held to a higher standard. from scholastic and college sports, to professional sports, men do not compete against women. there are separate (gender-based) bodybuilding competitions, gender-based hot-dog-eating competitions, etc, which always separate men from women, which always expect more of men, and this is a war on women which has to stop.

as a man who is expected to be capable of doing more than what a woman can do, i am denied entry into the armed forces because i am held to a higher standard on account of my gender. i am a man, i am taller and broader and stronger than the vast majority of females in the military, i can physically do anything a "strong" woman can do, and yet i am denied entry into the armed forces. i am a failure because more is expected of me...yet, if i merely had an egg-bleeding vagina (or a set of milk-spouting mammary glands), then my current physical ability would have granted me a place in the military.

i believe that if members of the shorter/smaller/weaker gender have their own set of physical requirements for the military only because they are pipsqueaks who cannot achieve as men can achieve, then a similar compensation should be given to the men who cannot meet the physical requirements for men.

like a bent-arm hang is no match

Mauvette Joesephine
Catherine Fisher4 years ago

War is no one's place (many men die in war and it's bad for your personality and the world). War should be a last resort.
But if the woman knows what she's doing and is fit enough etc. then she can choose to risk her life. She won't be slower if she meets standards, is properly trained and experienced.
This article offends me.

Rainbow W.
.4 years ago

All countries lie to their citizens, but does that mean the rhetoric coming from the opposing mouth contains truth? I am rational. I know war is a part of man. Maybe we'll evolve in a billion years, who knows. The only way to deal with illogic logically is to temper it down and know scope. Hopefully we can eliminate all ideology and use rational. Then war would only occur as a defense.

"WW1 was suppose to be the war that ended all wars"
And yet it didn't. It was a misnomer anyway.

"But I am still touched..and I smile when I read those words......Grandma called me Ohiyantuwei "rainbowwalker"..there is a reason..don't let it be lost."
I cannot be manipulated. I know you are trying to appeal to what you believe is my ego in an attempt at a passive jab.

Actually, Mama Crow called me that "with a heavy heart". The rainbow isn't a pretty symbol to Native Americans as it is in the west. It's like a sacred place, can be a doorway to death, the unknown.

"cont.. ust found a new cause..where us old campaigners could just do some good..."
I thought you didn't read links but you sure love posting crap.

Rainbow W.
.4 years ago

"Rainbow...I am not your enemy...despite what you believe.."
I have no enemies. The mere fact that you are using that vernacular tells me you consider me yours.

"Yes, defend your Country by all means.. I would expect nothing less..."
More of that passive aggression. If you haven't noticed I don't defend nor condemn. I state fact. There's a difference between understanding a situation and supporting it. You equate military with war. That is a fraction of what we do. I was more proud of assisting capsized ships, dispersing food during disaster and seeing our men and women work with engineers, doctors, chemists and myriad others not to create weapons but to heal, construct and aid. It is the fact you were raised by hippies you only see the negative. But when a disaster strikes and that uniform is there with care, supplies and protection hippies sing a different tune. Then quickly forget that and throw more dog shit at us.

Yes they deny us our benefits and I fight against that. But I fight for ANYONE who does a job and doesn't get what they earned and contracted for.

"but I'm a realist too"
Actually, you're not. You see things from a limited angle and no other. War does form part of everyday life, you are just in a bubble and don't see. Killing is natural and there has hardly been a time in man's existence when there wasn't conflict. Peace is the anomaly. Everyone manipulates, even hippies [perhaps more so]. All countries lie to their citizens, but does that mean t

Rainbow W.
.4 years ago

Many vets medical records [like mine] were destroyed; they use this as a excuse to deny benefits: if they cannot determine if it's service related or not they would just deny it. Took an act of Congress to change it.

Rainbow W.
.4 years ago

"Neither man or women should be sent to war..."
Then who? Children, dogs or monkeys? War is here and one can use pretty philosophy to assuage their conscience to support pacifism but it won't change. The hippies put flowers in soldiers and cops guns during Vietnam protests and only got their skulls cracked for their troubles. Not only did they not stop that war, they didn't succeed in stopping any war. Many of the people I served with were children of hippies: who went the other way and waved a flag. Human beings usually are driven by themselves [desires, fears, wants] not logic. All one can hope is to be rational and only use force for defense, not ideology. I am not against protests. I just understand they usually are counterproductive. There are more rational ways to stop violence.

"what is Gulf War Illness...?"
[]"Certain illnesses are associated with Gulf War service in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations during the first Gulf War starting August 2, 1990 through the conflict in Iraq."

I have a plethora of these symptoms. I did sustain bodily damage as well. The VA is only slowly giving benefits after over two decades of not wanting to pay or give medical care. Many vets medical records [like mine] were destroyed; they use this as a excuse to deny benefits: if they cannot determine if it's service related or not they would just deny