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US army allows women to take on combat related roles

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Deborah Cowan 
WVoN co-editor

This week saw the US military take another step towards gender parity when it announced that around 14,000 jobs would be made available to women in combat related positions.

The move follows an announcement earlier this year by the US Marine Corps School that they would enrol female students for the first time (see WVoN story).

The policy change announced earlier this year now opens up six occupational specialities in the US Army to women across nine brigade combat teams.

The specialties are in the fields of artillery rocket technology and deployment, radar, tank systems repairs, artillery mechanics, and other combat vehicle maintenance.

Women have previously been banned from combat roles in both the army and the marines due to concerns about their strength and stamina.

They have not been allowed assignnments to direct ground combat units which include infantry, artillery and tanks.

While the Pentagon are still reviewing whether to allow women to engage in direct combat, supporters of the changes and army officers say that female soldiers have been serving in combat related positions for years, even if they have not been structurally recognised.

The US Army currently have in place The Ground Combat Exclusion Policy, which is supposed to keep women out of ground combat.  However, women soldiers have served in Afghanistan and Iraq for over ten years, with women soldiers fighting and dying in combat.

In all, 144 women soldiers were killed in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq according to the Pentagon, with a further 853 wounded, despite measures to exclude them from any combat related roles.

Moreover, more than 135,000 female soldiers have served, winning more than 400 valour awards between them.

Brigadier General Barrye Price, director of human resources policy at the Army G-1 (personnel) said:

‘The last 11 years of warfare have really revealed to us there are no front lines. There are no rear echelons. Everybody was vulnerable to the influence of the enemy.’

It seems, then, that women are already fighting up front and centre.  But as long as 30 percent of army jobs are still restricted to men, what chance do they have of proving themselves in the absence of a level playing - or indeed fighting – field?

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