By Carey Lohrenz
Nearly 15 percent of the United States’ 1.5 million active duty military personnel are women, and more than 255,000 women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Restrictions on the roles of women in combat have a long and colorful history in the U.S. Military. Even as opportunities for women to serve in combat roles have increased over the last 15 years, the ‘combat exclusion’ policies have kept women out of critical leadership roles.
That is about to change.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is due to announce today that the U.S. Military is lifting the ban on women serving in combat. This decision will overturn a 1994 policy that prevents women from serving in small front-line combat units. Potentially 250,000 front-line positions and possibly even Special Operations jobs will now be open to women.
And they should be.
We have women in combat roles right now. This decision is finally catching up to what the realities are on the battlefield. They’re on the ground in Iraq; they’re on the ground in Afghanistan. Many women have served and are currently serving in combat as ‘temporary attachments’ to infantry foot patrols, security patrols, interpreters and other positions that constantly put them in the direct line of fire. In counter insurgency operations (COIN) the distinction between what the frontline is and isn’t, is no longer clear. One has to look no further than a May 12, 2012 Wall Street Journal article that shows such close engagement.
This is the reality.
The time for “What if’s” has passed. The reality is that women have been performing in combat-related roles in both Afghanistan and Iraq, although they were not formally designated as such. We are just not able to promote them; there is truly a ‘brass ceiling’.
In an article I wrote for the Huffington Post last year I summed up the issue like this: “Major policy changes are where the most critical senior leadership challenges begin. This is especially true when a policy change significantly alters the military’s social norm, as was the case in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and as will be the case when women are permitted to serve in front-line ground combat forces. The coming years will reveal the strength of today’s senior military leadership as they navigate the choppy waters of implementing these policy changes, while protecting the young pioneers who are bravely volunteering to blaze a trail in the service our country.”
Lifting the ban on women in combat is strictly formalizing and recognizing their current contributions. With good leadership, this policy should be implemented successfully and with little disruption.
After more than a decade at war with women already serving in many of these jobs, it’s about time.
Carey Lohrenz is the author of the Wall Street Journal Best Seller “Fearless Leadership: High-Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck.”, a motivational speaker and leadership expert.
Carey has flown missions worldwide as a combat-mission-ready United States Navy F-14 Tomcat pilot. Her extensive experience operating in one of the world’s most challenging environments, an aircraft carrier, and her unique position as one of the first female combat pilots make her the perfect opening or closing inspirational keynote speaker for your corporate meeting or conference.
Carey graduated from the University of Wisconsin where she was a varsity rower, also training at the Pre-Olympic level. After graduation, she attended the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School before starting flight training and her naval career. She is the mother of four kids, and is currently working on her Master’s in Business Administration in Strategic Leadership.