5 questions about women in combat that must be answered


Female Engagement Team members Staff Sgt. Kimberly Taylor and Cpl. Austin Walswick, along with interpreters Susan and Salim Mandokhil, conduct a “children’s shura” once a week in Sangin, Afghanistan, to educate the children and engage with the local populace. (James J. Lee / Staff)

It’s now widely reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will announce today that he is lifting the Pentagon’s ban on women being assigned to combat units. A briefing will be held with the media this afternoon, with Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, taking questions from the press.

Make no mistake, women have served in combat for years. They’ve earned valor awards, led convoys through hostile countryside and given their lives at times in service to our nation.

Still, there’s a variety of questions that must be addressed as the Pentagon and the individual branches of service formulate plans to address the ban being lifted. Here are five worth addressing:

1. How will the individual services comply?

The Pentagon may be lifting this ban, but there are serious questions that service members will have about how the change will be implemented. Will women be allowed in the infantry, for example? If so, when? What standards will they have to meet in order to qualify?

2. How will cultural issues be addressed?

Word of the decision last night was met nearly immediately by an outcry by many male combat veterans. Life with the grunts isn’t easy, as even this humble war correspondent can attest firsthand.

At times, living in a war zone means defecating without privacy, bathing out in the open and huddling with others for heat, especially in maneuver units. Those details aren’t optional — they’re a fact of life, especially on small combat outposts and patrol bases that aren’t well established.

Simply put, it won’t always be possible to have separate facilities for women. How will the services develop policy to address that, and how will it play out practically during the next war?

3. What’s it mean for Selective Service?

The Selective Service System requires all male citizens and legal aliens living in the U.S. to register between the ages of 18 and 25. Women are exempt. If the ban on women in combat is lifted and all citizens must be treated equal, does that mean women should be required to register in case a military draft is needed in a future crisis?

A major legal decision would appear to be required, and it has the U.S. Supreme Court’s name written all over it.

4. How will the military handle cohabitation in combat?

During previous embeds in Afghanistan, I’ve watched as Marines in Female Engagement Teams complied with a different set of rules than the male grunts they served alongside.

Check back on this 2011 cover story I wrote on the issue. Cpl. Michele Greco-Lucchina, a female Marine I met in dangerous section of Marjah district in 2010, said at the time that it could get “very, very messy” to deploy men and women together in infantry units.

“In any work environment, you’re going to have sex tension, especially when you’re deployed and nothing can go on,” she said. “When we were out there, we had to find ways around it because the infantry battalions were not ready for us. We used what they used. If they showered, we weren’t around, and if we showered, they weren’t around.

“But that can cause many problems on a lot of levels, and I know the battalion commanders and company commanders and senior enlisted, that was, I think, their main concern: ‘How is this going to affect our male Marines?'”

One policy in place at the time called for FET Marines to not stay on any one outpost for longer than 30 days to alleviate some co-location concerns, Greco-Lucchina said. That worked for a unit complementing the infantry, but it’s not an option if women are in the infantry itself.

5. How will a culture of fairness be adopted?

Without a doubt, there are women who are strong enough, fast enough and tough enough to handle frontlines combat. Hopefully, we can all agree on that.

Where it gets complicated is determining what it takes to make sure anyone serving in a unit in danger can handle the physical exertion they’ll face. As pointed out here, the Corps has been experimenting with establishing “common physical performance standards.” What’s that mean now that the ban on women in combat units has been lifted?


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. Valid questions, Dan, and thanks for presenting them in a non-combative way (excuse the pun). While this is a great way to open up military career and service options to the many qualified women who serve, it would be irresponsible to think there aren’t major issues that would need to be addressed to make it safe, feasible, and professional for all.

  2. ”Common physical performance standards” is a euphimism for lowering the standards. This has all the the makings of a disaster.

  3. Hahahahahahahahaha. WOW, what has this world come to. I want to know what retards think that this is a good idea. What about the 4 idiots that tried to sue the government for not getting recognition in combat. F you, is that what this is all about?!?!?!?! Grab a ruck fill it with 100 lbs of gear and go run around the mountains for 2 weeks. And what about that time of month? No one cares! They’re gonna complain about not having proper medical care, F you. YOU ARE NOT EQUAL when it comes to war fighting, it’s not in your genetic make up! Deal with it and find something else to bitch about!

  4. I love that it’s always males that bring up “that time of the month.” I don’t expect an ignorant grunt to understand this, but females have been taking care of whole “situation” for thousands of years. And, get ready to have your mind blown… there are medications (ie simple birth control) that can keep a female from having her period for several months at a time… certainly long enough for a standard combat deployment.

    The women that will be chosen to fill combat roles will not be soft and prissy… they will expertly trained and get the job done. Does it really matter if the person standing next you has a hole or a pole as long as they are capable of saving your life in the heat of it?

    All this complaining about women is combat is propagated by the ignorant, common, and uneducated.

  5. Hey TK your comment…The women that will be chosen to fill combat roles will not be soft and prissy… they will expertly trained and get the job done. What’s this chosen?? If it’s equal for everyone now whats going to happen when a female goes in open contract??

    “I don’t expect an ignorant grunt to understand this” LOL all I’m going to say is unless you are a 03xx you HAVE AND WILL NEVER HAVE A CLUE!!!

  6. first off any woman can make it in the grunts good on her any woman that can do what we do and not complain good on them but alot of yall coment are from people who never served front lines infantry mostly get alot of these coments from the pogs woman on the front lines no no no no there where be more problems with it because they will be seen as out siders sex doesnt mean shit being able to do the job does do u wnat to see them being raped when there captured or have to bandage them when they is no help for them men will do crazy things to help the woman in the grunts because that how we are wired its going to end bad this isnt a political experiment that should happen

  7. Folks…I am a combat veteran…an infantryman…I routinely carried my ruck, basic combat load and a PRC25 radio and two spare batteries….I weighed 200 Lbs….I can state that the enemy will have no mercy on anyone wearing the uniform,,they could care less about the so called equal rights that everyone speaks of…that will be the real world…you cannot appeal to the liberal courts then…are you going to pull my fat butt and all of my equipment off the field in combat? Are you going to take resources away to make seperate facilities for both sexes at forward operating bases? As you might guess…I am a Viet Nam combat infantry veteran…I date myself with the PRC 25 radio…When went to war…we went to the field and stayed for extended periods of time…Maybe one female in many, many thousands could handle the extended periods of time actually in combat…the other guy really doesnt give a damn about your rights…he will kill me and he will kill you and not blink an eye in doing it. There are differences between the sexes…get over it and understand that.

  8. Perhaps I’m a bit old fashioned, but I cannot see how this could possibly work. There may be a few women who can physically handle the physical rigors of combat, but certainly not many. Will physical standards be lowered so that more can qualify? Ask the British Royal Marines what happened when they lowered standards.

    Also, I think it’s time, if they are to be considered equals, that women be required to register for the draft irregardless of whether or not they serve in combat.

  9. The issue of women in combat roles has a much deeper side the Psychological. It is a fact that for thousands of years “few” militaries have effectively employed women in combat roles.

    Let me put it into a context I am sure many of you have seen a brother ripped apart by what we do. Think on this, if that battle buddy was female and you were holding her together trying to stop her from dying.

    Yes many of us have seen this and done this in a “them” context the casualties of war, civilians and others. Not someone you are close with and in close psychological bond. There is an instinct in us all to protect (with the exception of psychological/ physiological anomalies in some) this takes on a deeper significance when in the “her” context. It will and has led to atrocities being committed in the past, this cannot be discounted.

    Hate is a motivating factor in crime of passion and you could not ask for a more motivating factor than seeing your female battle buddy ripped apart. This is a two way street women have this instinct to protect to a greater degree than men. To discount these factors is folly at best and will lead to a greater psychological impact on soldiers, this is already a huge problem with PTSD.

    Before committing women into combat roles this is an area that needs study or those that scream for this change will simply be beating the drum to the death march.

    Can they do the job yes. All of them no, the same as men not all are suited. They must be held to the same standard as men to do less will weaken the combat effectiveness of any unit.

  10. so birth control is your answer to the time of the month? so not only is that something else to put in your ruck instead of ammo, water and batteries. but it’s one more thing to get lost or destroyed. and you cant brrow any from another female unless every female is carrying double, which again is less ammo, water, and batteries you can carry. making the males carry extra shit for the females is just plain dumb, everyone carries their weight. there’s missions when you have a very strict packing list, all non essentials are left in the rear. personally, this isn’t even the biggest issue, I could care less if you bleed down your pants on a mission, but it’s your problem and you take care of it, and stay away from me. we take special care of our stinky soldiers. for me, it’s the inherit emotional code written in men, that we view woman as weaker than us. and in a life or death situation, the men can get distracted and protective, which will get people killed. focus must be on the mission. let’s talk about killing, everyone thinks they can do it until they do. there are already a percentage of men who can’t handle it, and women are proven to be even more emotionally unstable. look up female sniper programs.

  11. WOMEN IN THE INFANTRY = the moment when equal opportunity creates unequal measures of ability, and obscene double standards. Is the motive of a female to fight in the infantry to prove they can, or is it to fight in the infantry? Anyone who joins the infantry with something to prove, gets people killed. So ladies who want in… is your desire to prove that a women can do a mans job so important that its worth getting him killed in the process?

  12. I am curious to see how this works, those are good questions, and insults aside, I truly want to see women meet the standards we men have to. If you bring their standard up ‘some’ and lower our standards ‘some’, all you have done become sub par. We in the Army did that in the Airborne…. we went from having to do 20 pull ups to get into jump school, to 6…. 6? Just how low can you go? This was done a long time ago, and I do not know how many of you remember Grenada, but the first complaint after that jump was half the troops did not have the upper body strength to deal with sustained combat operations under load…. Surprise! Yet we did not change it did we… why because to many could not meet a new standard.


  13. With the exception of VERRY few, women cant cut it along side men. period. i would take a guy who is training as hard as me to watch my back in ANY SITUATION, weather that be combat or just a bad situation to be in, every day of the week over the toughest women. why? because HE can be physically and mentally counted on. Because I dont have to worry about his feelings, emotions hormones, and just general chick BS getting in the way. WOMEN CAN NOT CUT IT. you really want to let them in direct action MOS’s? Have them train with men and hold them to MEN’s combat standards. if they wash out in any way, fuck em. they DO NOT BELONG THERE! putting them along side men with reduced combat /physical standards is going to get our guys killed. fuck being sexist, you have to be. If the girls want to play with the boys, they MUST show that they can perform as good as boys. even if they prevail, watch them constantly and still dont put your life in their hands, because at the end of the day, it is the guys who are going to be pulling the girls out of the situation they thought they could handle and failed, and most likely getting someone killed that could have been prevented had she not been put there!

  14. On another note, those exact FET Marines in this article patrolled in Marjah with my squad. The truth behind what these ladies won’t tell anyone with a camera and a pen is that the first engagement we encountered with them, they lie curled in the fetal position down in a ditch crying. So, rather than maneuvering on the enemy and killing them, we had to sit tight and babysit. It’s pretty sad really, that not only will certain women talk all this trash about how they can do it, they will not even own up to the very truth they know, because they want it so bad. Most of these women want in for the wrong reason. This is not a game, these are real lives we are talking about. I would never fight in combat with someone who is trying to prove they are worthy. That is not why anyone joins the Infantry. Or, at least not until now.

  15. I am a former, female Marine…THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!!!!

    Forgive me ladies, but you honestly haven’t a clue. You MIGHT be able to pass the men’s physical, but you will never be able to fight in real combat like the men do. The real question here is-WHY? Why on earth would you want to? We are not made for war-plain and simple TRUTH. Men are not made for pregnancy, they aren’t complaining about it. Yes, you will say “well of course they aren’t made for pregnancy, duh”, but it is this truth of how women and men are made different, that all women need to come to an understanding and acceptance of. Truly, you can not honestly think you can drag a 200 lb man even 100 yds to cover. Why don’t you try doing pull ups? Go ahead and start carrying 200 lbs every day, ALL day every where you go for the next 6 months, see hoe you do. Do all that now, stateside, before you are put under the extremes of heat, cold, and firefights….you will most likely change your mind. I don’t understand the need for this new breed of females to prove they are as good as men. Ladies, you are making yourselves look like you have a HUGE chip on your shoulder, and are starved for attention…sad.

  16. Why is this initiative being brought forth based upon the idea that it gives women equal opportunity employment. Shouldn’t we make decisions that make our fighting force better at fighting? I’ve got news for you: War is not an equal opportunity occupation. However, it is an equal opportunity killer. Quick analogy for you… So why don’t we integrate our US Olympic sports teams? Despite the fact that our female olympic athletes will be stronger than most of the US population (even men) they will not be stronger than the vast majority of their male adversaries. Unfortunately, our adversaries in war do more than wear metals. They carry our amputated heads around and parade them on Al Jazerra. True close combat is not a “opportunity” it is hell in its purest form. Modern technology will never change this fact! Once you truly experience close combat you will never be the same. If you live through it, you will go to work at your first civilian employer and people will look at you like an animal. Sure, they will pay lip service to your background but will talk about how crazy you must be behind your back. You will play catch with your child in the back yard but in the back of your mind you will think about the kids you watched burn because the vehicle you engaged and thought was a VBIED was really carrying a family of 4. Our military is not broke so why fix it? The next time I lead Marines into close combat with a brutal enemy who wants to annihilate our way of life, I pray that it is with the meanest, nastiest, most brutal, barbaric/yet restrained sons-of-a bitches on the face of the earth; not some wanna be beaf cake Suzzy who wants to hang out with the guys so that she can further her career. Call me an “ignorant grunt” if you want, but you enjoy your freedom as a US citizen because of histories “ignorant grunts.”

    This statement in no way is meant reflect the official view of the US Marines Corps or it officials. It is merely the opinion of many grunts who serve within. We will always faithfully carry out the orders passed down by the commander and chief as well as the officers appointed over us.

  17. Craig makes a very valid point. The Israelis discovered that men turn savage when they witness the death of a female soldier, and brutal war crimes were often the result of this horrific reality during the 1948 war to secure the Israeli state. While all women serve in the Israeli army (most of them reservists), for the most part they no longer serve in infantry or other direct combat MOS fields. There is no shortage of capable males in this country to fill these roles, and trying integrate women into this type of activity is both unnecessary and potentially disastrous. This is just another political side show to win points with the kind of liberal feminists that would never lift a finger to serve their country in the first place. Once again political motives and social engineering are going to become a needless distraction for a military that is already overworked and stretched paper thin.

  18. Very valid questions. I was in during the late 80’s and I was assigned to a field artillery brigade in Germany. I think if they want combat jobs they should have to register for the draft seems only fair to me. I also think that if the ladies want to play on the guys field it would be well advised to think about it long and hard. My brother was a grunt and even though I was a hard core female soldier I don’t think I would want to be a grunt. My old sgt always told me I was born in the wrong era should have served in Nam.

  19. I’m a grunt and I know that everyone who wants a female in my infantry has never been in my infantry. It’s like an infantryman telling a car sales man how to do his job and who he should hire. Let the car salesman be a car salesman and let the grunts be grunts.
    Women want equity, not equality. Whether they know it or not

    This is a horrible idea. You might as well go tell a grunt he is nothing more to you than a pawn in a political game.

  20. Okay, ask yourselves why there are no female NFL football players? Take a game like rugby for instance where there are female teams. Why do female teams not play male teams? Because they would be crushed that’s why! You want females in the infantry? Okay, here is the test, any woman alive who can kick my ass is allowed in. Any woman who will survive hand to hand combat with any one of my soldiers can come to the infantry. So much for females in the infantry…..

  21. Women in combat: No problem if you keep the same standard. We are a nation in which special interest trumps reason and universal uniform standards. Apply one standard; let everyone rise all fall based on merit alone.

    What is the purpose of the military? I think most people would say it is to project strength and when needed apply defensive and offensive lethal force in defense of our national interests. ANYTHING that detracts from that mission is superfluous, unnecessary and needs to go away. The military is not a social experiment, so don

  22. Women in combat: No problem if you keep the same standard. We are a nation in which special interest trumps reason and universal uniform standards. Apply one standard; let everyone rise all fall based on merit alone.

    What is the purpose of the military? I think most people would say it is to project strength and when needed apply defensive and offensive lethal force in defense of our national interests. ANYTHING that detracts from that mission is superfluous, unnecessary and needs to go away. The military is not a social experiment, so don’t make it one.

    The bottom line should be THE STANDARDS: one set of physical standards for everyone, one set of showers, quarters, etc. The main objection to co-location has always been privacy concerns and likelihood of sexual harassment or relations so ALL sexual contact between service members should be banned, period. In order to maintain a professional mixed gender, mixed sexuality combat ready military we need to enforce the rule on sexual contact. No service members should ever be involved with each other. We surrender many of our rights to serve so this would be no exception. If you want, need a relationship, find it outside the military or quit. It never has had a place in the military; strait-bi-homosexual, it does not matter: one rule; equal protection and just application under the law.

    Let’s consider the current implementation of the gender integration rules in the Navy. Where is the benefit to the Navy for the hundreds of millions of dollars used (and being used) to retro fit ships for separate quarters for women in an era of financial crisis in America? Are we more lethal that way? Make both genders truly equal and share everything. If separation is necessary in order to protect against sexual advances/sexual harassment/assault: what about gay men with heterosexual men? Are you telling me that it is impossible for gay men to make advances, harass or rape? Are we saying that some heterosexual service members’ rights are less important to defend? Separate is not equal under the law. Certainly everyone either deserves the same protection and recognition or no one should get a special privilege. End the hypocrisy; grant all equal protection under the law. The discussion should be about equality and standards alone but it is not.

    To list a few extreme examples; if I have Downs Syndrome, can I sue a medical school for entrance? If I am short, can I sue the NBA to lower the net? If I am blind and deaf, can I sue to be a pilot? If I am a skinny weak white guy, who can’t do pushups, sit ups and pull-ups, can I sue to make the infantry take me on? Can I sue Ranger Battalion or DELTA Force because I am too weak to pass selection? Certainly their standards’ are limiting my career. Logical consistency should matter.

    So who are we going to integrate first? I suggest the Secret Service and capitol police. What politician is willing to drop the physical standard when it comes to their protection and life? Are there woman serving in those roles? Yes, but they ALL meet stringent unwavering requirements. There is a standard because that is WHAT is required to do the job. No one gives a damn for the men who CAN’T cut it because they CANT meet the requirement. That is the entire point. Those weak men SHOULD be excluded. How is this any different? It will limit those weaker soldiers’ career progression, and it should. Certainly there are women who are stronger than some men. Then meet the SAME requirements exactly, don’t lower the requirements and in doing so lower the quality. I want and need a partner in combat who CAN lift me in gear and drag me out of harm’s way, who can stand toe to toe with an enemy and physically fight if need be. Why should I settle for less to further someone’s career? The decision should be made by the military not the politicians of whom 99% have never served in combat. It is our lives and the security of a nation on the line.

    Equality under the law does not/should not eliminate standards nor guarantee inclusion. We are all genetically determined in some sense. No law can change those genetic attributes and should not change job requirements or standards. Certainly common sense is not common. Let’s be logical, apply common sense and adhere to established standards. Perhaps the answers are tiered units with specified combat roles and have differing levels of physical difficulty based on the use of that unit etc. Perhaps all soldiers get a numerical rank based on physical ability. The bottom line is that we have a standard and that should be the limiting factor; not race, age, sexual orientation or what genitalia you have. None of those items should confer an advantage, or a disadvantage. No artificial quotas, no differing standards, a true meritocracy based on a set of MOS skills and quantitative (measured) ability. This is simply applying common sense and the way to ensure we have a diverse and strong military.

    May we remain strong.

    Medical Officer

  23. This is extremely silly. Canada has been doin this for years and they seem to get along fine with coed forces. Females and males are in the same company, platoon, and our squad. Operate on the field side by side, the only difference is in the field females sleep with females. Once morning comes they muster up and return to their platoon alongside the males. That means females eat, sleep, wash, etc. with eachother, then on a team level return with the males. It’s so simple, it’s not even funny. Honestly, why does our country’s leaders have to act like 6 year olds?

  24. Get your facts straight Dominick. I’ve trained with the Canadians. Some of their combat arms are integrated but not the infantry. The vast majority of Canadian soldiers in the MOSs that are integrated mostly hate it and think that its a hindrance on their level of expeditious readiness. Furthermore the physical standards are still different for the males and females. This is about combat readiness not equal opportunity. Again I say: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

  25. What does the “looking at a common physical standard” mean? It means, watering down the standard till they can pass. Just like women in every other job profession involving safety. The Military is not for social experimentation.

  26. Under a rock 20 plus years ago?

    They drove trucks, established communications systems, dug bunkers, flew jet tankers, refueled bombers and fighters in midair, launched Patriot missiles and endured enemy attack.

    AND……They guarded POWs, lived with, worked with and commanded male soldiers. <<< Got that? They pooped wherever the rest pooped.


  27. Where is everyone getting this lowering the statndards thing (paranoia I think?) Everyone in currently in the infantry can carry 200lbs thats BS to. The hundred pound ruck is the standard, as it should! What are you afraid of the women may out peform you supermen?? No man has every had to be carried from the battlefield due to fright again BS.

    The rule should be don’t meet the standard can’t be a member. Not someone precieved notion of what they should have to do.

    More women are attacked by there so called brothers (heros) because they ask for it, does that mean they do there brothers the same way because they look good. Give it a rest. that would be the only reason they should fear taking showers with the group, because if they a naked they asked for it (right). you arguments are primitive and victorian at best. there are probably a lot of women out there that could kick your asses!!

    So what are you afraid of??? You would be required to protect the woman, don’t already have your brothers back now??






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