From paper to practice: The integration of women into combat units will prove a challenge for some more than others

By: Kira Margoshes

WASHINGTON, D.C.- On Dec. 3, defense secretary Ashton Carter announced that “no exceptions” would be made, opening all positions to women by April.

“If people can meet the rigorous standards, we welcome them into our community,” said Carter.

Despite the integration approval, tensions were evident as Gen. Dunford of the Marine Corps was not present next to Carter during the official integration plan announcement, as is custom.

Jan. 20 at American University, retired Lt. Gen. David Barno and Nora Bensahel, an AU scholar in resident, held a panel on the implementation plan, surrounding the female integration into all combat jobs.

“Not allowing people who want to serve is ridiculous,” said Tanner Holland, a junior at AU. “No need to turn away people no matter what the gender.”

The plan ensures that women are integrated via vertical integration, where at least two women are placed on each level, ensuring systematic support.

“30 percent or more of a group affects the whole decision making culture of the team,” said Barno. “Leadership is key, especially senior levels of support.”



(Retired Lt. Gen. David W. Barno and Dr. Nora Bensahel in SIS 300 (Photograph taken by Kira Margoshes))

In the past, women have worked outside of their traditional role. The 1990-91 Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations proved to be the catalyst in women holding more prominent roles than previously allowed.The deadline for any exemption from the proposed integration came and went in 2015. Now it is a matter of implementation throughout the military branches.

It is obvious that it will be easier in some places than others, as some branches already have co-ed programs while others have remained solely separate sex in their programs.

The Army was an example of one the more integrated branches versus the Marine Corps, which has yet to initiate co-ed training. From 2013-2016 the Army reviewed physical requirements for all positions in general and opened the Ranger School, known for being the most arduous and grueling test of physical endurance, to women.

The Marine Corps has shown concern regarding a co-ed unit performance, versus single sex, but according to Bensahel, women are the ones demanding standards stay the same.

“Women now are the most vocal to keep standards and prove themselves,” said Bensahel. “Over time we’ll see more women in these positions, but it takes time to physically meet standards.”

All branches of the military were required to submit reviews of the proposed integration before the implementation was approved and announced.


One hot topic that arose was sexual assault in the military.


“The integration of women units that are all men will force them to face the issue and support each other,” said Barno. “It’s more healthy to have gender integration than single gender.”

Bensahel added that “the majority of sexual assault is men on men.”

Critics of the integration argue that it will provide opportunity for even more sexual assault to occur as well as being a distracting factor.

Michael Bivalev, a freshman who attended the panel said, “ If anything (integration) will force military police to do their jobs. It’s the fault of men assaulters not women.

As this integration pushes forward, one of the rising questions from this action has been: will women have to sign up for the draft?

“Women should have all the responsibilities and benefits of citizenship,”said Bensahel. “If they perform poorly for any reason, they will be punished accordingly.”

Other areas touched on during the live-stream panel session included: gender neutral job titles, concern over women being “inherently nurturing,” and how this proposed change on paper will be put into practice at every level within the military.

The panel left students informed and even excited.

“It was great,” said Zach Hinch, an AU senior. “I really liked how a retired military officer and a civilian worked together.”

“I thought it was really interesting,” said Samantha Gies, a freshman. “The point of views were well informed and well thought. Not too biased one way or another.”


As this integration spreads throughout the military, a long overdue opportunity for both men and women to serve their country in equal measure is finally possible.


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