Female Soldiers Make History in the United States

Posted by on May 30, 2017 in United States

In 2013, President Obama ordered the U.S. military to open all combat positions to women as well as men. Now, four years later, a group of 18 female soldiers has made history by graduating last Friday from United States Army infantry training.

The Quest for Equality

The move toward gender equality in the military began when 19 women were the first to attend Ranger School, the Army’s most demanding training, in 2015. Of that group, two women became the first to earn the Ranger tab. Last year, the first women began attending the basic officer leadership courses at Fort Benning. Of that group, ten women graduated the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course in October, and thirteen additional women became first lieutenants when they graduated the Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course in December. The Army sees this as a process: train female leadership first, and work down to infantry. Last Friday’s graduation represented the final step in that process.

Separate But Equal

The Army prides itself on holding its female infantrymen to the same standards as its males. Women must be able to perform all of the same physical tasks as men, and carry out the same chores and duties. Men and women train together in mixed-gender squads. They sleep in identical (but separate) bunks. The only difference in the way the two groups are treated is that women do not have their heads shaved upon arrival at basic training, and the men do. However, many of the women elected to shave their heads as well, in solidarity.

A Difficult Road

Just because women are now able to participate in Army infantry training doesn’t mean that it’s an easy path for them. In fact, out of the 32 women who began training in February, 44 percent dropped out. The dropout rate for the men, on the other hand, was only 20 percent. This is at least partly because of size: even though a female “grunt” may be significantly smaller than her male counterpart, she is still required to carry the same weight and perform the same tasks in the same amount of time, which means that she is also more likely to be injured.

A Job Well Done

Head and shoulders selective focus view of a happy young mixed race woman, wearing in army fatigues, hugging her 4-5 year old son after returning home, West New York, NJ, USA

Credit: Blend Images/Getty Images

During last Friday’s graduation ceremony, very little attention was paid to the historic nature of the event. The new female soldiers were still referred to as “infantrymen.” Media coverage was extremely limited; Army spokespeople indicated that this was because it was important that the female graduates be treated as soldiers and that they not be viewed merely as people trying to gain a media spotlight.

From here, the women will move on to assignments on bases at either Fort Hood, Texas, or Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They will be placed in units where women already hold position of responsibility at platoon, company, and battalion levels.

Currently, there are about 100 women participating, or preparing to participate, in infantry basic training at Fort Benning. It is likely that the publicity generated from the recent historic graduation will help increase those numbers.  The Army does not have a quota for the number of female trainees it recruits.

What Do You Think? What do you think are some reasons why women might be motivated to enter basic training despite the difficulties and possible prejudice they may face? Do you think the potential benefits would outweigh the challenges? Explain.