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Women In The Us Military

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In this paper; I will discuss facts and issues regarding the past, present and future of women in the United States military. We will learn about a small number of the historical challenges that women have faced in the service of their country. I will present some of the persisting stereotypes and stigma that women have had to overcome to stand on an equal footing with their fellow male soldiers, specifically as these relate to female physical and mental health issues. We will discuss some of the legitimate gender specific mental and physical health issues that still need attention. Finally, we will look at one issue that I feel has not received enough attention from academia and the public.

Historically; whenever humankind has engaged in combat, women have been relegated to a supportive role. Women were expected to defend their homes in their husbandÐŽ¦s absence, but often needed to disguise themselves as men to actively participate in any other combat roles. There are obvious and notable historical exceptions to this observation; including female military leaders such as Aahotep, Boudicca, Kahlua, Joan of Arc and others. For the sake of brevity, I will limit this paperÐŽ¦s discussion to the historically recent experiences of women in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout much of AmericaÐŽ¦s early military history, women were simply independent contractors who provided succor and nursing support for the men fighting on the front lines. Due in large part to the success of a program initiated during the Spanish-American War, women were formally given rank as part of the now permanent Army Nursing Corps in the early 1900ÐŽ¦s. Women could not enjoy many of the benefits of that rank, but it was a small step in the right direction.

This step began a SLOW process of change that began during both World Wars and continued through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Women, mostly due to necessity, were given gradually expanding responsibilities that had historically been delegated to men. Not all of this change was accepted nobly; there was recurrent internal resistance and discrimination against these womenÐŽ¦s gains. The ÐŽ§Good Old BoysЎЁ club of military leadership gave ground on their turf grudgingly and sluggishly. Congressional actions such as 1948ÐŽ¦s WomenÐŽ¦s Armed Services Integration Act provided some limited gains to women serving their country, further equality was gained with Public Law 90-130, signed into law in 1967. Gradually changing public opinions and their influence on our government has seen further equality gains by women in the military. The U.S. military academies accepted their first class of female recruits in 1976 and America was protected by our first female fighter pilot in 1993. These often hard fought gains have culminated in todayÐŽ¦s situation, in which nearly all military combat roles are equally open to both genders. These increasing opportunities have brought about significant gains in womenÐŽ¦s enlistments. In the 1970ÐŽ¦s women constituted a meager 1.4% of the ranks, this number has steadily increased to the todayÐŽ¦s staffing levels of 14.6% female soldiers.

One of the leading misconceptions that has prevented the true gender integration of the U.S. military has been the notion the women are mentally and physically incapable of the tasks and strains that accompany combat. As with most issues, there is data to both support and refute this statement. One such study looks at the performance and experiences of female British military recruits. Under public pressure to integrate British forces, the command authority adopted a ÐŽ§gender fairЎЁ policy, under which female recruits faced gender adjusted entry standards and fitness requirements. As these recruits entered active duty, it became apparent that many of these women did not possess the strength and conditioning necessary to physically perform their tasks. This deficiency led to the adoption of the ÐŽ§gender freeЎЁ policy, which held female recruits to identical fitness tests and conditioning metrics as their fellow male recruits. A 2002 study observed skeletomuscular injuries to the lower extremities among British military recruits. Under the more stringent ÐŽ§gender freeЎЁ policies, the increased fitness requirement dropped the overall female population of recruits from 12% under ÐŽ§gender fairЎЁ to 10% under ÐŽ§gender freeЎЁ. Even with the tougher selection standards and reduced number of females eligible to enter training, the medical discharge rate due to the studied injuries among female recruits rose from 4.1% to 11.6% under the new policies. The study noted that the male discharge rate remained under 1.5% under both policies1. This study would seem to suggest that women are NOT capable of healthy achievement of combat readiness requirements.

This studyÐŽ¦s findings are contrasted by a study sponsored by the U.S. Army that measured female recruits with standardized fitness tests that have no gender adjustment. After the standard 8 weeks of Army basic training, only 29% of female recruits could pass this battery of tests. This same group, when given an additional 6 months of resistance training increased their pass rate to 78%2. This data supports the current thinking that women are capable of achieving a satisfactory fitness and conditioning level to support combat operations, they just cannot be expected to achieve those levels at the same speed as male recruits. I would suggest that this is a wholly unreasonable expectation in any case. It seems ridiculous to expect a female recruit to build the same muscle mass and conditioning as a male in the same 8 weeks of basic training. There might be a small percentage of women who could achieve success in 8 weeks; but gender differences in nutrition requirements, frame sizes and other physiological factors would suggest that the British ÐŽ§gender freeЎЁ approach seemed doomed to failure from the onset.

The Defense WomenÐŽ¦s Health Research Program (DWHRP) has been launched by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the VeteranÐŽ¦s Administration (VA) to study the gender specific mental and physical health issues that a female soldier faces. The DWHRP has conclusively proven that women are equal to men in the physical and cognitive aspects of military readiness; including meeting such physical challenges as tolerance of gravity forces, the ability to respond to stress, and the ability to survive in extremes of heat and cold3.

One of the biggest challenges facing womenÐŽ¦s psychological health issues as they relate to military service is the almost complete lack of historical data. Past studies relating to active duty and veteranÐŽ¦s mental and physical health issues were completely focused on male soldiers. As we have found repeatedly in this course; womenÐŽ¦s issues



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