Wanted: Women in top military roles
February 22nd, 2012
11:14 AM ET

Wanted: Women in top military roles

From Paula Broadwell, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Paula Broadwell is the author of “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus”

The Department of Defense announced last week that 14,000 combat-related positions in front-line support units and combat battalions would soon be open to women. In part, that simply recognizes what women have been doing for the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan .

The announcement is a small step in the right direction, but female military leaders need more opportunities – now. The Pentagon needs to expand experimental programs for women to gain leadership experience because most current openings are filled by candidates who have experience leading combat brigades and battalions, e.g., male officers. Women are qualified to serve as officers in combat units that will prepare them for senior levels of leadership, and they want to. Without that experience, however, the pathway to the top is a very narrow one.

On six book-writing reporting trips to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, I interviewed female medics who had saved men on the battlefield, female officers on "cultural support teams" who supported Special Operations night raids, female military police who manned machine guns atop Humvees, and female helicopter pilots who flew into "hot" landing zones taking enemy fire. I saw women in Afghanistan effectively plan and oversee ground assaults, air operations and artillery strikes in Kandahar this past year. Recognizing their courage and the valuable skills they bring to improving combat effectiveness is important. Yet with 34 percent of the jobs in the Army and 32 percent in the Marine Corps still closed to women, work remains to be done. Opening more of these combat support positions for women is important for increasing the opportunities they have to lead at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels - and thus help them advance to senior levels of leadership.

Change has come slowly in the military. In the early 1970s, women made up less than 2% of the Army. Now it’s roughly 14%. After a decade of war, 280,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan ; 141 have died, and 865 have been wounded. In spite of representation at lower ranks, women only make up 7% of our general officer corps. Army General Ann Dunwoody, the highest-ranking woman in our military, was promoted to four-star general, the first woman so elevated, in 2008. The Air Force, which has opened 99 percent of its jobs to women, including those of fighter pilots, nominated Janet C. Wolfenbarger this month to become its first four-star general. A thoughtful and measured process will ultimately lead to broader support for these advancements. Over time, undoubtedly, there will be more opportunities as the organization recognizes how much women can contribute.

As a West Point graduate and an Army intelligence officer (now in the Army Reserve) involved in counterterrorism missions after Sept. 11, 2001, my first assignment was in an infantry division and I've also worked in the elite, largely male Special Operations Command. My experiences in these male-dominated units were positive, perhaps in part because I was capable of holding my own physically. Many of my sisters-in-arms have served in similar units and proved themselves capable, too. According to a Pentagon study, “research evidence has not shown that women lack the physical ability to perform in combat roles or that gender integration has a negative effect on unit cohesion or other readiness factors.” Most of us do not understand why, if we have proved ourselves physically, mentally, and tactically capable of leading on the frontlines, that we’d not be qualified for certain opportunities.

The 2011-2012 Pentagon review of the 1994 ground combat exclusion policy looked at five issues related to women’s roles, concluding that some changes were necessary, and others required more study. The review dictated that women should still not be allowed to serve in many combat positions for three reasons: berthing and privacy issues were cost prohibitive; long-range reconnaissance and special operations activities were too dangerous and involve combat; and the inherent tasks would be too physically demanding for women. The review did rescind two of the five constraints that restricted women's roles in combat – allowing women to now serve in direct combat units below brigade level and to be located with combat units. Pilot programs such as those allowing women to officially be assigned to direct combat units, less the infantry, for example, will test the former. Restrictions on co-location were already obsolete; in Iraq and Afghanistan women have out of necessity routinely been filling intelligence, military police, engineer, staff roles and other positions in close proximity to – and often directly on – the front lines. In reality, neither change is a bold stroke. Without opening up more positions on the frontlines, women will not gain the necessary exposure to leading in combat that the Pentagon has deemed necessary for strategic leadership assignments.

This debate is not about equal opportunity, however; the true metric here is whether a woman’s contributions improve combat effectiveness. These wars have shown they do, as gunners, medics, or engineers, according to many of my male colleagues who have served alongside women in war. To ensure that they are contributing to combat effectiveness, the standards of performance should be “gender neutral.”

Although I am a fierce advocate for women's opportunities, I understand why the Pentagon has not fully repealed the military's prohibition on women serving in artillery, infantry and tanks units engaged in "direct" ground combat, at least not until pilot programs allow them to prove their mettle. The “big Army” is taking longer to review these changes in part because there are not a lot of women who are both interested and capable, but that’s not a reason to exclude those who are.

This debate is not unique to the U.S. military. Many of our allies have shown more forward thinking than the Pentagon, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Australia. In these countries, women serve in various “close combat roles” defined as "engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile forces personnel." Though women’s representation is small, they contribute. The Australian contingent in Afghanistan has demonstrated that women add value and have not disrupted the emotional dynamic of units on the frontlines.

What should DoD do? First, as we draw down in Afghanistan and begin adapting the force for the next fight, it makes sense to accelerate the pilot programs while we are still at war and there are real world opportunities to test women, including in infantry units. Additionally, one area where pilot programs for is in elite, small, highly disciplined special operations units, organizations which pride themselves in adaptivity and agility. Women have, in fact, demonstrated their abilities in this community through their work on all female cultural support teams and as operators attached to Special Forces and Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan . These women are not trained as “fighters,” per se, but they do receive enhanced training in self-defense, tactical exploitation, and the physical requirements associated with getting into and out of target sites.

Opening the 14,000 jobs, and others, will give women the opportunity for further service on the frontlines and create more opportunities for advancement. They will help burnish women's combat credentials and give them the experience of fighting or commanding in combat situations. And as the Pentagon study pointed out, opening these jobs to women will alleviate some of the deployment pressures facing men in these fields.

The Pentagon should move swiftly and in broader strokes to accelerate these pilot programs and expand them to include leadership opportunities in more combat arms positions.

Here’s the bottom line: mentally and tactically, we are capable. Establish the physical requirement for being an infantryman and allow women who meet it to prove themselves. We as a nation want the best and brightest to attain these jobs, but so far the U.S. military has not allowed our best and brightest women the necessary experience.

Now is the time to correct that course by expanding the experimental programs in front-line support units and combat battalions.

Paula Broadwell graduated from West Point and had assignments with the U.S. intelligence community, U.S. Special Operations Command and an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. She is the author of the recently published All In: The Education of General David Petraeus and spent months embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Filed under: Afghanistan • Justice Department • Military
soundoff (316 Responses)
  1. Rebffiple

    ebay cialis http://rcialisgl.com/ long term effects of cialis

    May 6, 2021 at 12:41 am | Reply
  2. Jebgreext

    pharmacy price comparison Olanzapine go coupon

    May 5, 2021 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  3. Fmrfreext

    cialis http://cialisee.com/ – fastest delivery service for cialis fastest delivery service for cialis

    May 5, 2021 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  4. Rebffiple

    generic cialis australia http://rcialisgl.com/ – cialis 20mg cialis price canada

    May 5, 2021 at 9:29 am | Reply
  5. Gtnbclups

    viagra challenge https://jokviagra.com/ generic viagra online

    May 5, 2021 at 8:55 am | Reply
  6. BbshVelm

    viagra pranks https://loxviagra.com/ – viagra warnings who invented viagra

    May 5, 2021 at 6:40 am | Reply
  7. Fmrfreext

    lowest price on cialis 200 mg http://cialisee.com/ – canadian pharmacy no prescription generic cialis cialis 10 mg price

    May 4, 2021 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  8. Gtnbclups

    viagra samples https://jokviagra.com/ – viagra generic how long does viagra last

    May 4, 2021 at 7:41 am | Reply
  9. Lebnreext

    drug prices comparison https://xlnpharmacy.com/ Super P-Force

    May 4, 2021 at 4:10 am | Reply
  10. Abdgreext

    Microzide https://canadianeve21.com/ – canada drugs pharmacy online Strattera

    May 3, 2021 at 4:03 am | Reply
  11. Lhdvfiple

    cialis funny https://asciled.com/ rush delivery on cialis

    May 2, 2021 at 9:23 pm | Reply
  12. Lhdvfiple

    cialis only http://asciled.com/ – cialis online australia cialis tadalafil. au

    May 2, 2021 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  13. Lrbsreext

    buy levitra 20mg hearing levitra buy levitra uk

    May 2, 2021 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  14. Jbsdreext

    canada drug prices birth control Cozaar

    May 2, 2021 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  15. Fbsfreext

    pharmacy online http://uspharmus.com/ – Atorlip-5 Cardura

    May 2, 2021 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  16. Rfvbfiple

    generic cialis overnight delivery http://cileve.com/ how can i get cheaper cialis

    May 2, 2021 at 12:34 am | Reply
  17. Fbsfreext

    Voltaren http://uspharmus.com/ – Cialis Professional pharmacies online

    May 1, 2021 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  18. buy generic cialis, canadian

    cialis, sale, canadian pharm. https://canadacialisstore.com/ buy generic cialis without prescription canadian pharmacy

    May 1, 2021 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  19. BbdfVelm

    performance anxiety viagra http://gensitecil.com/ cialis versus viagra

    May 1, 2021 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  20. Rfvbfiple

    cialis for women dosage https://cileve.com/ cialis orders paypal paid

    May 1, 2021 at 5:35 am | Reply
  21. Lrbsreext

    which is better viagra cialis or levitra levitra clinical data levitra from usa

    April 30, 2021 at 8:41 pm | Reply
  22. avanafil

    avanafil avana tablet

    April 30, 2021 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  23. generic viagra from canada

    pfizer viagra canada pharmacy https://canadaviagrastore.com/ is it legal to bring viagra back to canada from mexico

    April 30, 2021 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  24. raoult coronavirus

    chloroquine cvs https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloroquine phosphate medicine

    April 28, 2021 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  25. canadian weight loss pills

    canadian weight loss pills https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian pills online

    April 27, 2021 at 10:15 pm | Reply
  26. Jbsdreext

    Macrobid https://onlinecanda21.com/ erection pills

    April 25, 2021 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  27. Lhdvfiple

    blood pressure on cialis http://asciled.com/ online cialis australia

    April 25, 2021 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  28. erectile dysfunction treatment

    erectile massage therapy https://canadaerectiledysfunctionpills.com/ erectile dysfunction doctors

    April 25, 2021 at 8:33 pm | Reply
  29. Lhdvfiple

    ordering cialis in canada https://asciled.com/ – п»їcialis generic cialis online australia

    April 25, 2021 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  30. Lrbsreext

    levitra erectile dysfunction https://uslevitraanna.com/ use levitra

    April 25, 2021 at 5:42 am | Reply
  31. Jbsdreext

    Cozaar https://onlinecanda21.com/ diabetes

    April 25, 2021 at 4:04 am | Reply
  32. Rfvbfiple

    viagra vs cialis/strong> http://cileve.com/ cialis 20mg online

    April 25, 2021 at 3:30 am | Reply
  33. Gvdbclups

    tadalafil 40 mg india https://boxtadafil.com/ otc tadalafil

    April 25, 2021 at 2:54 am | Reply
  34. BbdfVelm

    woman viagra https://gensitecil.com/ – viagra connect walgreens generic name for viagra

    April 24, 2021 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  35. Abdgreext

    canada online pharmacies https://canadianeve21.com/ Cialis Super Active

    April 24, 2021 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  36. Rfvbfiple

    but cialis overnight delivery http://cileve.com/ genuine cialis no prescription

    April 24, 2021 at 11:45 am | Reply
  37. Fbsfreext

    rx pharmacy https://uspharmus.com/ – meds online without doctor prescription legitimate online pharmacies

    April 24, 2021 at 10:07 am | Reply
  38. Fbsfreext

    Topamax http://uspharmus.com/ Zovirax

    April 23, 2021 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  39. Gvdbclups

    tadalafil 40 mg online https://boxtadafil.com/ – rx tadalafil tablets generic tadalafil 20mg

    April 23, 2021 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  40. Lrbsreext

    cialis and levitra levitra where to buy levitra medication

    April 23, 2021 at 9:31 am | Reply
  41. buy generic vardenafil over the counter with no pres. online

    buy vardenafil online without presciption https://vegavardenafil.com/ staxyn (vardenafil)

    April 22, 2021 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  42. how safe and reliable are canadian cialis

    canadian pharmacy for cialis https://canadacialisstore.com/ counterfeit canadian drugs cialis

    April 21, 2021 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  43. viagra cost canada

    generic viagra shipping from canada https://canadaviagrastore.com/ viagra canada over the counter

    April 18, 2021 at 11:57 am | Reply
  44. canadian diet pills

    average perscription pills taken by 65 year old canadian? https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian diet pills

    April 15, 2021 at 12:49 am | Reply
  45. zithromax purchase

    zithromax generics https://zithromaxes.com/ zytromax

    April 13, 2021 at 2:33 am | Reply
  46. alprostadil cream on ebay

    alprostadil cream cost https://alprostadildrugs.com/ injection suppository

    April 12, 2021 at 8:27 am | Reply
  47. Fbshreext

    https://thesisacloud.com/ – thesisacloud.com thesis help online thesisacloud.com professional thesis writing service

    April 9, 2021 at 4:34 pm | Reply
1 2 3

Leave a Reply to Fbdhfiple


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.