Attrition: Women in Combat

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August 14, 2007: The Department of Defense has a policy that forbids the use of female troops in direct combat. This is mostly about politics, but the rule is there and must be obeyed. Or at least an attempt must be made to enforce the rule. While many women finding themselves in firefights, and exposed to roadside bombs anyway, that's normal for a combat zone. As far back as World War II, 25 percent of all troops in the army found themselves under fire at one time or another, although only about 15 percent of soldiers had a "direct combat" job. In Iraq, women make up about 14 percent of the military personnel, but only two percent of the casualties (dead and wounded). So the policy, which many politicians oppose, but most women soldiers favor, appears to be working.

Still, the casualty rate for women in Iraq is over ten times what it was in World War II, Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War (where 30,000 women served). A lot of the combat operations experienced by women in Iraq involves base security, or guard duty. Female troops have performed well in that. This is a job that requires alertness, attention to detail and ability to quickly use your weapons when needed. In convoy operations, women have also done well, especially when it comes to spotting, and dealing with, IEDs (roadside bombs and ambushes). Going into the 21st century, warfare is becoming more automated, and less dependent on muscle and testosterone. That gives women an edge, and they exploit it, just as they have done in so many other fields.

 


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