The Army and DoD definitions of “direct combat” offer another instance of contradictory interpretation.
The Army policy includes “a substantial risk of capture” as being definitional while the DoD does not.
The DoD defines direct combat as taking “place well forward on the battlefield while locating and closing
with the enemy” while the Army policy omits the phrase “well forward on the battlefield” but adds that
combat occurs “while repelling the enemy’s assault by fire, close combat, or counterattack.” It is
unclear exactly what “repelling the enemy” might include. Further, the nature of combat missions
aren’t spatially discernible, as the phrases “well forward” and “closing the enemy” might suggest. The
confusing language in the two policies reveals the difficulty of establishing a definitive line between
combat and non‐combat particularly in actual practice.
The Increasing Presence of Women in Combat Roles
The changing nature of warfare as well as military necessity has increasingly placed women in combat
roles. Despite the ambiguities in policy, military commanders are assigning women where they need
them. The time is long overdue for policy to catch up with practice.
The Battlefield Environment
The absence of a clear line between enemy and friendly territory produces a situation where both
women and men are always exposed to the possibility of combat, necessitating every soldier to be
- In late 2003 the Army revised its basic training protocol to prepare soldiers to irregular warfare.
It was decided that all servicemembers would undergo combat training, including more
weapons training, learning to protect against bombs and grenades and learning to fight in urban
areas where enemies where indistinguishable from civilians. Recognizing that “women were
working alongside war fighters, taking hostile fire – even in the role of designated support
forces,” no gender distinction was made on who would receive combat training.13
- Beginning in 2005, the U.S. Army began placing women in Forward Support Companies (FSCs),
which provide maintenance and support services to direct ground combat battalions, including
infantry, armor and Special Forces. The Army recognizes this assignment will place women in
combat situations, yet maintains that it is in compliance with the 1994 DoD policy.
- In May of 2005, an amendment was proposed which would remove all women from FSCs –
which would have closed 21,925 positions currently open to servicewomen.14 The amendment
was opposed, suggesting an increasing level of recognition of the need for women in
occupations and units regardless of their proximity to combat.
- Women also participate in raids and ride on convoys where the exposure to Improvised
Explosive Devices (IEDs) is constant.
Beginning in 2003, the U.S. Army established all‐female (Lioness) teams specifically to accompany allmale
Marine combat units into insurgent‐infested areas of Ramadi, Iraq.
- Lioness teams originated from the military’s need for servicewomen to be present during home
raids, at checkpoints, or any place where “Iraqi women’s honor” could be threatened by the
presence of and/or contact with male troops.
- Women soldiers were primarily used in these instances to search Iraqi women for weapons or
explosives. They also served as a “calming presence” for the women and children.
- Lioness teams routinely engaged in combat by nature of their missions and should be
recognized and awarded as having done so. Mission success is clearly dependent on women
filling these combat roles.
Female Engagement Teams (FETs)
FETs are crucial to the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and are attached to
either infantry units for combat missions or, in the case of Marine FETs, to male maneuver units.
- In July of 2009 the Marine Corps officially began training FETs; there are now several teams run
intermittently in southern Afghanistan and as of November 2009, all international and Afghan
security forces were directed to establish FETs of their own.15
- In March 2010, the Marines trained forty women for the first full‐time Female Engagement
Teams, deployed to Helmand province in April 2010.- The FET women practice “reflexive fire” as well as getting in and out of armored personnel
carriers while under fire. The tasks of their mission ‐ “calming,” interacting and building
relationships with Afghan women ‐ require that they go outside the wire, into hot zones.
- FETs are attached to combat units, not assigned. This bureaucratic sidestep allows the military
access to servicewomen’s labor in combat situations without having to acknowledge them as
Women on Submarines
The number of talented women earning degrees in engineering and science prompted the U.S. Navy to
lift the ban barring women from serving on submarines. For the first time, women are in the chain of
command of a strategic first‐strike nuclear defense asset, attesting to their competency in positions
essential to national security.
- Allowing women on submarines is an issue that had been considered and rejected several times
since 1993. In February 2010 Defense Secretary Robert Gates notified Congress that the Navy
intended to allow women officers on submarines.
- 24 women officers are being integrated on guide‐missile attack (SSGNs) and ballistic‐missile
(SSBNs) submarines. Allowing women to serve on submarines will provide them the opportunity
for both forward deployed strike and strategic deterrent operational experience.