90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Women On The Front Lines

On Memorial Day, we look at women and combat roles in the U.S. military.

In this Aug. 10, 2009 photo, a U.S. Marine Female Engagement Team wait for the signal to begin their patrol in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. On Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, Pentagon rules will catch up a bit with reality, recommending to Congress that women be formally allowed to serve in more jobs closer to the front lines. (AP)

In this Aug. 10, 2009 photo, a U.S. Marine Female Engagement Team wait for the signal to begin their patrol in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. On Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, Pentagon rules will catch up a bit with reality, recommending to Congress that women be formally allowed to serve in more jobs closer to the front lines. (AP)

American women in the U.S. military have been formally barred from direct combat roles. But in Iraq and Afghanistan, that line has become kind of a joke. Women now make up fifteen percent of the U.S. military. They’ve been all over these wars without clear front lines. When your transport column is under fire, you’re in combat. When you’re on foot, in uniform and armed in Khandahar, you’re in combat country.

Now the rules are changing.

This hour in an archive edition of On Point: On Memorial Day, women and combat in the U.S. military.

-Tom Ashbrook


Ashley Russell, a Captain in the U.S. Army, she recently returned from a 12-month tour in Afghanistan.

Margaret Harrell, senior fellow and the Director of the Joining Forces Initiative at the Center for a New American Security.

Kayla Williams, served in an Army interpreter in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, author of Love My Rifle More than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army. She is now a project associate with the RAND Corporation.

Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, he is a senior fellow for national security at the Family Research Council.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “The Marine Corps, the most male of the armed services, is taking its first steps toward integrating women into war-fighting units, starting with its infantry officer school at Quantico, Va., and ground combat battalions that had once been closed to women.”

Christian Science Monitor “The Pentagon Thursday cracked open the door for women to serve in combat, though they will still not be permitted to fight in battle – at least officially.”

Armed Forces Press Service “Army leaders are asking whether — and how — to open infantry and armor ranks to  women, the service’s senior soldier said May 16.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Gina M
    • Drew (GA)

      I found myself wondering why they didn’t state that this was a previously aired show, they normally do.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Has Captain Russell noticed differences in pay between men and women for the same work?  I mean, in our military — in Afghanistan?

    • Roy Mac

      Military pay is based on rank and time served.

  • W bradford

    One more ‘Umm’ from Captain Russell and i would have torn my hair out.  Terrible habit.

  • Larry Monteith

    I believe it was Lt Col Maginnis that just said our Army was moving away from counterinsurgency war and back to more traditional. Our Army wanted to do this after Vietnam. The Army does not get to choose what wars it fights. All wars from here on out will be counterinsurgency, because we have proved in Iraq that nobody can stand up to our combined armed forces.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/PQOCSU3NJ5J6SSQBEM5YBFCPZY Jason__A

      Your post is laden with hubris.

      To those of you who love war, may I remind you that Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly formidable opponents. Yet it has taken us 11 years of fighting, and for what?

      The real criminals are in DC, CEO suites, and the Pentagon. Over paid, overweight and corrupt old men who gladly send young men (and now young women) off to die for nothing. These same morally and intellectually bankrupt people would have us in a state of perpetual war. Money and careers are to be made from this insanity.

  • Rebecca Abbott

    Regarding the putative emotional pull of male soldiers to save female soldiers,  miltary units are based on the close relationship of soldiers in combat units.  Most male soldiers will all say that their main concern in battle is saving their buddies.  Veterans I’ve worked with say that it is the closest bond they have ever had, closer even than to their wives.  So to say that the impulse to save a female will be an issue, I can’t see how it would be a greater pull than the emotional ties that soldiers already feel to their unit brothers.

    • Sam Walworth


      Santorum knows that during “that time of the month” women are no good in many things, including combat.

      He knows it first hand, from his mother, wife and daughters.. 

      (PATHETIC, he has such views, even though the soldiers of Holy Land ie Israel, has men and women in Combat)

  • Lesley Chapman

    The proud dad whose daughter could take out Santorum is INCREDIBLE! His kids are lucky to have him for a father.

  • Mark Knoeller

    The Military has developed special forces with training specific to the needs of that unit. Meany men who start the training wash out. Consider the Navy Seals. Soldiers develop deep bonds with one another regardless of their gender.



    • answerfrog

      Notice not a single woman on the show would ever agree for women to be drafted. This is the “good” sexism.

  • kathy

    How do the Israelis do it?  I understand that women, like men, are required to do military service.  Surely, they have encountered and answered these issues.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556596405 Susan Carr Noethen

    this reminds me of the arguments which occurred in the 60s and 70s when women wanted to be police officers and fire fighters.

    • Ashbrook is Phenom

      Not quite the same thing

  • Don

    I dare say that the majority of Americans are sentimentally against women in combat, but increasingly open to the idea.  The problem is, recent history shows that the more you allow women into combat roles there are inevitably those who will insist upon pushing the boundries of compelling more women into such roles.  Fortunately I think there is a way of creating a fairly insurmountable divide that satisfies both sides…that is, pass a constitutional ammentent of sorts that states that no women shall ever be compelled into military service except for exceptional defense of our homeland, but any woman may voluntarily serve in any role. 

    • answerfrog

      This is called a DOUBLE STANDARD.

      If you want the privilege, then you have the responsibility. If men can be coerced to die, then women should. Combat is not for dilettantes. Either women don’t fight in combat, or they all register for selective service at 18. These women are asking for special treatment and extra options and choices that are not afforded to men, based on gender discrimination. They want to be coddled with extra special rights but no responsibility. To walk away from combat if things get tough.

      Really, enough hypocrisy. Just like some women don’t want to fight or kill, there are plenty of men who don’t either. Being born with a Y chromosome shouldn’t mean that the state can send you off to death. Men and boys are not disposable.

      • Susan Kuo

        Agree with frog. Women should be drafted too. Oh, and I am a woman. Happy to defend our great nation.

        • answerfrog

           Thank you! I think many women would. 

  • answerfrog

    I love the glossing over of the draft issue. Basically the only reason women aren’t drafted is sexism, but this is the “good sexism” of female privilege, so it’s okay. Let men bear the burden of defending their country in the worst circumstances. Equal treatment doesn’t mean you get all the benefits but can skip out when the going gets tough, and let disposable males be sent off to die somewhere. Pure hypocrisy. 

  • drjones2012

    Women will weaken the strength of our military in the heat of battle. It is a shame women have the grand dilution of thinking they can do what a man can do. In battle only the strong survive.

  • Sy2502

    I have read so many comments to this issue on different forums, and one thing I have noticed, is that all the whining comes from men. No female soldier has raised a stink about how they don’t want to be sent to die, they don’t want to be in close contact with the men, they don’t want to be taken prisoners, etc. They are all sucking it up, ready to do their duty. The guys on the other hand are being the biggest cry babies, throwing tantrums on how they don’t want to share their toys and play nice. Guys, you need to take lessons of character and strength from the ladies, and grow up.

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

Aug 20, 2014
In this Oct. 21, 2013 file photo, a monarch butterfly lands on a confetti lantana plant in San Antonio. A half-century ago Monarch butterflies, tired, hungry and bursting to lay eggs, found plenty of nourishment flying across Texas. Native white-flowering balls of antelope milkweed covered grasslands, growing alongside nectar-filled wildflowers. But now, these orange-and-black winged butterflies find mostly buildings, manicured lawns and toxic, pesticide-filled plants. (AP)

This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 19, 2014
Lara Russo, left, Cally Guasti, center, and Reese Werkhoven sit on a couch in their apartment in New Paltz, N.Y. on Thursday, May 15, 2014.  While their roommate story of $40,800 found in a couch made the news, other, weirder stories of unusual roommates are far more common. (AP)

From college dorms and summer camps to RVs and retirement hotels, what it’s like to share a room. True stories of roommates.

Aug 19, 2014
Police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

“War zones” in America. Local police departments with military grade equipment – how much is too much, and what it would take to de-militarize America’s police force.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Your (Weird? Wonderful? Wacky?) Roommate Stories
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

We asked, and you delivered: some of the best roommate stories from across our many listener input channels.

More »
1 Comment
Our Week In The Web (August 15, 2014)
Friday, Aug 15, 2014

On Pinterest, Thomas the Tank Engine and surprising population trends from around the country. Also, words on why we respond to your words, tweets and Facebook posts.

More »
Nickel Creek Plays Three Songs LIVE For On Point
Wednesday, Aug 13, 2014

Nickel Creek shares three live (well, mostly) tracks from their interview with On Point Radio.

More »