Several Fort Hood combat units that used to be exclusive to men may soon have a few women in the ranks.
The change, still under review by the Army, is due to a shift in policy that opens up six military occupational specialties to female soldiers and moves to eliminate “co-location” restrictions, which prohibited otherwise qualified women from serving in combat ground units, such as armored or infantry battalions, according to Army and Defense Department news releases.
Among the new jobs opening up for female soldiers are Bradley and Abrams tank mechanics, artillery radar specialists and crew members for the highly destructive multiple launch rocket system.
The change comes as the Department of Defense is altering a 1994 policy that prohibited women from serving in jobs that are
co-located in combat units, such as Abrams tank mechanics who serve in the same battalion as a tank crewman, a direct combat position.
While the jobs opening to women are not exactly direct-fire combat positions, they are jobs traditionally attached to combat units on the front line.
The elimination of the co-location policy was sparked by the often blurred front lines and far-reaching movements that encompass the modern battlefield. It’s something soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan know all too well.
“My wife’s convoy was hit with an IED before (my convoy) was,” said Capt. Marcus Byrne, the public information officer for 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. Byrne said he and his wife, who is also an Army officer, were serving in different areas of Iraq, but the dangers — for both men and women — are much the same.
“I know, personally, that it doesn’t matter what MOS they have or where we put a female soldier on the non-linear battlefield, they are almost as likely to be in ground combat as their male counterpart, and female soldiers have certainly proven they are just as capable,” Byrne said.
According to statistics provided by the 1st Cavalry Division, more than 141,000 female soldiers Army-wide were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Of those, more than 800 were wounded and 80 died, either from hostile fire or accidental causes. Two women received Silver Stars, three received Distinguished Flying Crosses, and more than 5,500 combat action badges were awarded.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, a vehicle commander with the 617th Military Police Company out of Richmond, Ky., was the first woman since World War II to be awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest medal for valor.
While serving in Iraq, Hester’s unit was ambushed in 2005, according to Army reports. When the fight was over, 27 insurgents were dead, six were wounded, and one was captured. Three insurgents had been killed by Hester.
“Your training kicks in and the soldier kicks in,” she said in an Army publication at the time. “It’s your life or theirs. ... You’ve got a job to do — protecting yourself and your fellow comrades.”
Testing the policy
The Army is still in a testing phase of the revamped policy, with nine brigades — including three at Fort Hood — participating in an analysis of the change. Two of the brigades are within 1st Cavalry.
“The First Cavalry Division is honored to be a part of this service-wide review process,” 1st Cavalry Division public affairs officer Lt. Col. Kirk Leudeke said in a statement. “Women have served the Army with distinction and honor since 1775 and have made tremendous contributions and sacrifices more recently in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn. If the lessons learned from a decade of combat operations where women have actively served in harm’s way alongside their male counterparts leads to a change in Department of Defense policy going forward, we will integrate women into the positions available to them across our formations when directed to do so.”
First Cavalry’s 2nd Brigade is among the units currently participating in the policy-change review, due to the secretary of defense next month. Byrne said several female officers and senior noncommissioned officers were placed into roles within the brigade’s four combat battalions that were previously off-limits. “We’ve got 22 females right now that are filling these positions,” Byrne said.
The positions include personnel managers, field medical assistants and others. These jobs were open to women before, but they could not serve in the combat battalions.
To go along with the end of co-location, the Army is opening up six military occupational specialties to women:
- 13M multiple launch rocket system crew member
- 13P MLRS operations/fire direction specialist
- 13R field artillery fire-finder radar operator specialist
- 91A M1 Abrams tank system maintainer
- 91M Bradley fighting vehicle system maintainer
- 91P artillery mechanic
It will likely be months or longer before Fort Hood combat battalions see female soldiers trained in those positions join the ranks. The soldiers will still need to go through basic and advanced individual training, just like their male counterparts.
Byrne said he expects a smooth transition to the new policy.
“If you prove yourself, it doesn’t matter (if you’re male or female)."