Gender Issues:

Information on DOD's Assignment Policy and Direct Ground Combat Definition

NSIAD-99-7: Published: Oct 19, 1998. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 1998.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed various issues pertaining to the treatment of men and women in the armed forces, focusing on: (1) the numbers and types of positions that are closed to women and the associated justifications for closure; (2) Department of Defense's (DOD) current rationale for excluding women from direct ground combat; and (3) the relationship of DOD's definition of direct ground combat to current military operations.

GAO noted that: (1) approximately 221,000 of DOD's 1.4 million positions are closed to women, who comprise about 14 percent of the armed services; (2) about 101,700 of these positions are closed based on DOD's policy of not assigning women to occupations that require engagement in direct ground combat; (3) the remaining 119,300 positions are closed because they are collocated and operate with direct ground combat units, are located on certain ships where the cost of providing appropriate living arrangements for women is considered prohibitive, or are in units that conduct special operations and long-range reconnaissance missions; (4) GAO found no positions closed to women because of job-related physical requirements; (5) DOD's current rationale for excluding women from direct ground combat units or occupations is similar to its rationale when it first formalized the combat exclusion policy in 1994; (6) at that time, DOD officials did not consider changing its long-standing policy because they believed that the integration of women into direct ground combat units lacked both congressional and public support; (7) furthermore, transcripts of a 1994 press briefing indicate that DOD officials believed that the assignment of women to direct ground combat units would not contribute to the readiness and effectiveness of those units because of physical strength, stamina, and privacy issues; (8) at the time of GAO's review, DOD had no plans to reconsider the ground combat exclusion because in GAO's view: (a) there is no military need for women in ground combat positions because an adequate number of men are available; (b) the idea of women in direct ground combat continues to lack congressional and public support; and (c) most servicewomen do not support the involuntary assignment of women to direct ground combat units; (9) DOD's definition of direct ground combat includes a statement that ground combat forces are well forward on the battlefield; (10) this statement, however, does not reflect the less predictable nature of emerging post-Cold War military operations that may not have a well-defined forward area on the battlefield; and (11) if this trend continues, DOD's definition of direct ground combat may become increasingly less descriptive of actual battlefield conditions.

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