In order to get a proper look at women in the military in the present, we’re going to look at one particular military. We’re going to start with the U.S. military. And, just so we can get right down to the nitty-gritty, we’ll look at the women in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). I have a very special affinity for the Marine Corps!

The USMC has the least women of the U.S. military services—women are only 6.8% of the USMC compared to 20% of the Air Force, and 14.6% of all active duty personnel. The Marine Corps has the highest emphasis on physical fitness, as well as the longest basic training duration. All recruits, male or female, go through a 13 week boot camp followed by a 3 week combat training course which is held at the School of Infantry.

I went through this three-week Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina at the beginning of 2005. The training includes road marches, grenades, machine guns, hand-to-hand combat training, and live fire exercises. The focus, as the name implies, is combat. Come to find out, women have only been integrated into this course since 1997. If I had gone less than a decade earlier, I would not have received this training at all! Times have certainly changed. And they continue to change.

Here are two major challenges to rise to the surface for women in the military today:Women's Vietnam memorial in Washington

  1. The most recent and most hotly debated changes include the recent forays towards allowing women to serve in combat positions. Should a woman serve an infantry position where they will have to carry 100 pounds of gear on their back? Many say that is an unreasonable expectation and that the physiological differences are too great. The Marine Corps’ current policy is to let women undergo certain combat training on a volunteer status, and see what happens. I think this is the best method. The only way to know if you can do something is to try. Succeed or fail, you’ll have your answer. The important thing is that the physical standards, which can be a matter of life and death, be maintained no matter who is doing the job.
  2. In an environment where women are dramatically outnumbered, sexual harassment and sexual assault can become a severe problem. According to one article, “sexual assault of women in the military has become a major focus for the Pentagon and the service branches.” Since more light has been shed on this issue recently, more efforts are being made to address it, and discussion of options to expose and combat sexual assault have been far more publicized.

Those are probably the most high-profile issues of women in the military. In another vein, however, I think we would do well to highlight some women in the military who have achieved some inspiring military firsts:

  1. Lieutenant Niloofar Rhmani has become “Afghanistan’s first female pilot in three decades.”
  2. Major General Margaret Woodward was the first woman to command a U.S. combat air campaign.
  3. General Ann Dunwoody became the first female four star General in 2008.
  4. Eileen Collins was the First Female Space Shuttle Commander.

These firsts have all happened in the past decade and a half!

So what are your thoughts on women in the military? What does the future hold for them?


Sources and interesting links for women in the military: