In the early weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom, three enlisted women serving with the 507th Transportation Unit of the 3rd Infantry Division were captured or reported missing on March 23. The terrified face of Spec. Shoshana Johnson, who signed on to become an Army cook, was shown on an Iraqi video that also displayed the corpses of several of her colleagues. Pfc. Lori Piestewa and Pfc. Jessica Lynch were listed as missing. Pfc. Lynch, who put up a spirited fight to evade capture, was rescued on April 1 by a daring multi-force Special Operations Forces team.
The stories of these three brave women caused many Americans to wonder why the women were serving so close to the front line. Why were they so vulnerable to capture and likely abuse at the hands of the enemy? Aren’t there laws against women in combat?
The answer is no—statutory exemptions from combat aviation were repealed in 1991, and a law that exempted from involuntary duty on combat ships, including submarines, was quietly repealed in 1993. Units such as the infantry, armor, field artillery, special operations, submarines, and special operations helicopters remain all-male, but women are now serving in combat support and combat service support positions that used to be coded “all-male.”
With little or no congressional oversight or understanding by the general public, then-Defense Secretary of Defense Les Aspin ordered sweeping changes. The Defense Department’s “Risk Rule,” established in 1988, was repealed by the Clinton Administration, and long list of units that used to be coded male-only were opened to women. The key element in these changes was Aspin’s elimination of the phrase “substantial risk of capture” as a factor in determining where servicewomen would be assigned. As a result, women are serving at greater risk, even in support units.
The Center for Military Readiness was almost alone in commenting on what these changes would mean in actual practice. The articles linked here provide background information on what changes were made in 1994. The nation needs to think hard about the consequences of these changes as they are being implemented in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
INCREMENTAL STEPS + "CONSISTENCY" = RADICAL CHANGE
LAND COMBAT: THE EXPERIMENT BEGINS
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