Female Warriors Engage in Combat in Iraq, Afghanistan

For instance, women can fly attack helicopters and patrol hot zones as military police, but they can't serve in the infantry. They can act as a machine gunner, but can't train to drive an armored vehicle. Women could be trained in artillery and assigned to artillery units, but not ones battalion size or smaller. Female medics can be substituted in to combat units on the ground, but not assigned to them.

"Policymakers should be aware of what women are doing well in Iraq and Afghanistan if they're going to change the policy to preclude women from doing any of those things," Harrell said.

Critics like Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a group opposing full integration of women in the Army, says the Army bends the rules through loopholes in the language without giving proper notice to Congress of what they're doing. Women can't be assigned, but they can be "attached" to direct ground combat units.

The Growing Role of Women in Combat

"The way they're going about it haphazard, about how that job can be best done, is a problem," Donnelly said. "There needs to be a serious discussion of exactly where do we want our female soldiers to be deployed and where they can be used to the best effect," she said.

The Army inserting women in direct combat without consent from Congress is a practice that's been going on for a number of years now, she says.

"It's gotten worse," Donnelly said. "It's the policymakers I fault in this. They are the ones responsible for deciding who goes where. The field officers are having to deal with problems like pregnancies, evacuation, sexual misconduct, romantic hostility. Right now people aren't discussing," she said.

Women sleep in separate quarters, and use separate bathrooms. However, female troops are much more likely to face the additional threat of sexual harassment and assault. Almost 15 percent of female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have gone to the Veterans Administration for care have experienced sexual assault, according to "Women Warriors" study released this month by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

In the Navy women are excluded from submarine warfare, but earlier this month, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus says "allowing women to serve on submarines is an idea whose time has come," the Associated Press reported.

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