Senator Menendez Reiterates Call for Timely DoD Report on Women in the Armed Forces

Senator Menendez Reiterates Call for Timely DoD Report on Women in the Armed Forces

Outdated policies may cause Servicewomen to lose the ground they’ve gained as a result of their role in current conflicts

Washington - In anticipation of the Department of Defense's review of the laws, policies, and regulations that restrict the service of female Servicemembers as required by the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011, Senator Menendez reiterated his call for the Department of Defense (DOD) to detail the capacity in which the 255,000 women who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have served, and discuss ways to reconcile its combat exclusion policy with the realities on the ground whereby female Servicemembers are being "attached" to combat arms units that consistently engage the enemy on the ground with weapons.

"Female servicemembers have made tremendous contributions to our national defense, and the fact that 174 servicewomen have been killed and 845 have been wounded serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan tells me that we need to make sure the Defense Department's policies reflect the critical role women are playing in today's armed forces," said Menendez. "Only if we acknowledge their present engagement will they be eligible for the advancement opportunities they deserve, and will we ensure that in the future, the most qualified troops are fielded, regardless of gender."

This past June, Senator Menendez and his colleagues sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense requesting more details about whether the training, opportunities for promotion, and medical treatment of female servicemembers reflect their increasing role in combat situations. In a response from Clifford Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Senator Menendez was informed that his concerns would be address in the pending DOD comprehensive review.

Genevieve Chase, of American Women Veterans, a non-profit organization that advocates for women in the military said: "The nature of war has changed and battlefield commanders have found value in the contributions of women incombat and especially counterinsurgency operations.Just one example of this is the Marines' and U.S. Army's creation of Female Engagement Teams and Cultural Support Teams that are trained for and expected to live among these units in austere conditions as integral parts of their operations. Our military has realized that we have the ability to field the best America has to offer and all those who volunteer to serve our country should receive equal training and career opportunities, regardless of their gender. The creation of Female Engagement Teams and Cultural Support Teams who operate in austere conditions with combat arms units legitimizes the role of women in modern combat situations. This fact requires re-evaluation of the outdated and misrepresentative policy."

The Department of Defense "combat exclusion policy" precludes women from being assigned to ground combat units and being recognized as "combat troops", yet women have served for years in ground combat operations as "attached" units that expose them to the same danger.This policy keeps women from being recognized as combatant troops, which is one of the most direct ways to rise through the military ranks. This inconsistency has a direct impact on military women's chances of having access to adequate training before deployment, proper recognition upon their return, and fair promotion opportunities. Today, 80 percent of general officers come from career fields that are closed to women, and only 24 of the Army's 403 general officers - or 6 percent - are female, though women make up roughly 15 percent of the force.


June 17, 2011

The Honorable Robert M. Gates

Secretary of Defense

The Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1155

Dear Secretary Gates:

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission's report, From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership for the 21st Century Military informed the nation that the Armed Services should systematically develop a demographically diverse leadership that reflects the forces it leads and the public it serves. Additionally, the Commission recommended that the Services expand their diversity to include the range of backgrounds, skills, and personal attributes that are necessary for enhancing military performance. One issue the Commission highlighted that we would like more information about is the effect of the Department of Defense's combat exclusion policy on women in the Armed Services.

The Department of Defense's current policy as it relates to women in the Armed Services states that "women may not serve in units that (1) engage an enemy on the ground with weapons, (2) are exposed to hostile fire, and (3) have a high probability of direct physical contact with personnel of a hostile force," yet 134 female service members have been killed, and 721 have been wounded in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission's report highlights the inconsistency of DOD's policy with the reality of deployments, stating: "the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been anything but conventional. As a result, some of the female Servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have already been engaged in activities that would be considered combat related, including being collocated with combat units and engaging in direct combat for self-defense." The Commission subsequently recommended eliminating the combat exclusion policy for women.

We respectfully request additional information regarding the inconsistency of the current combat exclusion policy, whereby women are being "attached" to combat arms units that consistently engage the enemy on the ground with weapons, repeatedly encounter hostile fire, and frequently expose them to direct physical contact with personnel of a hostile force, yet women are not being adequately recognized for having served in combat arms functions when it comes to documenting these experiences in their military records and DD214s. Additionally, we are concerned that this policy unnecessarily restricts combatant commanders from selecting the best personnel to participate in missions solely based on gender.

We hope you will provide a more comprehensive explanation of the capacity in which the 255,000 women who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have served, specifically those that have been "attached" to combat arms units during their deployments. In accordance with the current combat exclusion policy, what roles are open to women and from which are they precluded? Does the policy inhibit commanders from effectively engaging in counterinsurgency operations?

Given the fact that women are now serving alongside and collocated with combatant troops, what measures are being taken to ensure they receive appropriate training prior to deployment? Finally, when non-combat arms troops engage the enemy on the ground with weapons or are exposed to hostile fire, how is this being reflected in their military records other than the issuance of a combat action decoration?

In summary, we hope you will provide more details about the increased capacity in which women are serving and how the Department is working to ensure that the issues of training, equal opportunities for promotion and career advancement, and proper treatment upon redeployment are addressed.

We look forward to your timely response to this inquiry and to working with you to update the Department's policies in a way that fully reflects the critical role women are playing in today's armed forces, ensures that women receive the much-deserved credit they earn during their military careers, and makes certain that our nation fields the most qualified troops regardless of gender.


Senator Gillibrand

Senator McCaskill

Senator Cardin

Senator Wyden

Senator Franken

Senator Merkley
Senator Hagan

Senator Lautenberg