FORT EUSTIS, Va. — The history of American women’s military service is as old as the U.S. Army itself. During the War for Independence, women mainly supported Soldiers by mending uniforms, preparing meals, and caring for the wounded.
During World War I, over 200 “Hello Girls” served a vital communications role as switchboard operators in France. Although women’s military service waned between the wars, it ballooned to over 400,000 who served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.
While American women have always played a vital role in national defense, combat remained almost exclusively the preserve of men for much of Army history. For example, though the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 enshrined women’s right to serve in the armed forces, this legislation also restricted the assignment of women to positions that would not expose them to direct combat.
As the Women’s Rights Movement gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, the Army opened more and more military occupation specialties to women primarily to make more efficient use of the talent pool, yet the limitation of women to noncombat MOSs continued.
The big question was how to differentiate between combat, combat-support, and combat-service-support MOSs. Consequently, in August 1977, the Army tasked U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to evaluate the combat roles from which women should be excluded and to provide a definition of combat.
TRADOC’s analysis led to the recommendation to exclude women “from positions that have the primary function of engaging in sustained combat in units with the primary mission of closing with and destroying the enemy or seizing and holding ground.” TRADOC also developed the Direct Combat Probability Coding System, which evaluated each MOS with a complicated set of criteria and resulted in some noncombat MOSs being closed off to women. Furthermore, in 1988, the Department of Defense developed a “risk rule” which barred women from MOSs which were at risk of exposing women to combat.
In the early 1990s, combat exclusions for women in the Army began to slowly roll back. Nearly 31,000 women deployed to Iraq during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, a conflict in which noncombat units were often as exposed to attacks as were those on the front lines.
The DCPC system greatly complicated the management of Army personnel in theater. In 1994, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin began to push for the opening of more job opportunities for women. Aspin rescinded the “risk rule” of 1988, which opened 32,000 Army jobs to women. However, women were still prohibited from serving in Armor, Infantry, Combat Engineer, Field Artillery, forward-area Air Defense Artillery and Special Operations units. It would be another 20 years before Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the last restrictions on women’s service in the Army.
On January 24, 2013, Panetta ordered the armed services to lift the ban on women serving in combat jobs in the military. The Department of Defense ordered the armed services to study the issue and develop an implementation plan within three years. In conjunction with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, TRADOC began a Physical Demands Study in January 2014 to develop gender neutral physical standards.
TRADOC conducted a feasibility study with the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team “Spartans” of the 3rd Infantry Division addressing four MOSs — 11B Infantryman, 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman, 19K Armor Crewman, and the 19D Cavalry Scout. TRADOC concluded that women could serve in these units, and subsequently opened its Ranger School to women in April 2015.
After Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver graduated in August 2015, the Ranger school was permanently opened to women. On Dec 3, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opened all combat arms jobs to women, to be implemented within 30 days.
TRADOC developed a “leader first” approach to integrating its combat arms schools to women, training female officers and NCOs before bringing female junior enlisted Soldiers into combat arms schools and units.
With the full integration of women into the combat arms in January 2016, nearly 220,000 military positions across the armed services opened to women. Due in large part to the efforts of TRADOC, all Soldiers could reach their full potential, regardless of gender.