RAND Study Says U.S. Army Following Defense Department Policy Barring Women from Ground Combat Units

For Release

August 7, 2007

The U.S. Army is following the Department of Defense policy barring the assignment of women to units whose primary mission is ground combat, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today. However, the study concludes that the policies of the Department of Defense and the Army governing the assignment of military women are difficult to understand, and that there is no consensus among senior defense officials about the objectives of the policies.

“Neither the letter nor the spirit of the policies is clear,” said Margaret Harrell, lead author of the congressionally mandated report and a senior social scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “A large part of the problem appears to be that the policies do not anticipate the style of combat experienced in Iraq where there is no clearly defined battlefield.”

The Department of Defense policy directs that women be assigned to all positions where they are qualified, but excludes them from assignments to “units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”

The Army has a separate policy, created in 1992, that excludes women from jobs that are “assigned a routine mission to engage in direct combat, or which collocate routinely with units assigned to a direct combat mission.” RAND researchers say their review of the assignment of Army women shows that the Army is complying with the Department of Defense policy, but raised concerns about whether the letter of the Army's own policy is being followed.

Because researchers found there was no shared understanding of the meaning of many terms used in the policies — including key items such as “enemy,” “forward or well-forward,” and “collocate”— the RAND report recommends that the Department of Defense revise its assignment policies for women to provide greater clarity and to better reflect the changing nature of warfare.

Researchers also say policymakers should consider whether a revised policy should exclude women from units and positions where they have performed successfully, and should also consider how much assignment policies in the Army and other services should differ from the overall Department of Defense policy.

Then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin revised the Department of Defense assignment policy in 1994 to allow women to fill a greater number of military jobs, following a report by the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women to the Armed Forces suggesting the role of military women be widened.

Opportunities for women in the U.S. military have expanded since that time, with the active component of the Army now including more than 48,000 women, who have access to about 70 percent of Army positions.

But some members of Congress expressed concerns after hearing reports of women coming under enemy fire in Iraq. Congress directed then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2006 to prepare a report assessing the current and future implementation of policies for assigning Army women. Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu asked RAND's National Defense Research Institute to conduct the assessment supporting that report.

RAND researchers reviewed the policies, Army doctrine, and available data regarding the Army women serving in Iraq. They also interviewed senior personnel from the Army, the Office of Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff, as well as members of Congress and many Army personnel recently returned from Iraq. Their analysis is contained in the RAND report “Assessing the Assignment Policies for Army Women,” which is available at www.rand.org.

Other authors of the RAND report are Laura Castaneda, Peter Schirmer, Bryan Hallmark, Jennifer Kavanagh, Daniel Gershwin and Paul Steinberg.

RAND's National Defense Research Institute conducts research and analysis for sponsors including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, defense agencies and the U.S. intelligence community.

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