Women in the Military

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Women now comprise 14 percent of the active-duty Armed Forces of the United States. That figure is up from 1.6 percent 25 years ago (Christian Science Monitor 1998:20). In 1948, President Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act which formalized the role of women in the military. Under the law, each branch of the service was allowed to appoint one woman Colonel (Byfield, 1998:02). Now, there are numerous women who serve as Generals and Admirals. They comprise all components of the forces including serving in combat units and aboard ships. It is hard to measure whether their integration into the services has been a success or a hindrance. Generally, when looking at the issue, one should consider the effect of the integration on defense readiness, unit cohesion and morale.

The contributions of women to defense readiness are in a number of areas. Women occupy diverse positions in the armed forces. A large percentage of women work in the areas of health care, administration, personnel, and supply. In fact 44 % of all women in the military serve in the health care field (Rabkin, 1999). More and more women are entering nontraditional fields such as aviation, surface warfare, air traffic control and field artillery (Rabkin, 1999). From 1992 to 1998, for example, the number of marine flight officers and pilots increased from 0 to 62 (Rabkin, 1999). Similarly, the number of enlisted army women in field artillery increased from 32 to 122 during the period 1992 to 1998 (Rabkin1999).

Basic training for women has been an ongoing issue for the military in terms of physical readiness. Military experts think that softening the training for women fails to transform them into physically fit, skilled soldiers who are supposed to be prepared for the demands of duty. They also think that accommodating women undermines the warrior spirit that draws young men to the military.

The dropout rate for women is higher than for men. This can be attributed to the demands of physical readiness and coed training. Women fail to fulfill their commitments to serve in the military in all branches of the military. Leading the dropout rates are white women with an average rate of 43%, followed by black women at 33% and Hispanic women with 31% (Park, 1999:08).

The possibility of women becoming prisoners of war is evident. One case in point is that of Melissa Rathbun-Nealy a military trained truck driver.

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