“I have not had an opportunity to look into that and dig into it, but I did look at our numbers for 2010 in women – women who committed suicide – and the numbers are very, very small. I believe we’re at somewhere in the vicinity of 7 percent, and that 93 percent are in fact males.... The resiliency of women – I may be out of school to state this – seems to be higher for whatever reason,” Charelli said.
What’s more, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, restrictions on their service are often semantic, senior military officials noted. While women cannot be “assigned” to units likely to see combat, they can be “attached” to them and, in this way, fight in battles.
Such restrictions are largely outdated because of the types of wars America is fighting today, according to the commission’s draft report. The policies that bar women from combat “are based on the standards of conventional warfare, with well-defined linear battlefields. However, the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been anything but conventional,” the report notes. “As a result, some of the military women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have already been engaged in activities that would be considered combat-related, including being co-located with combat units and engaging in direct combat.”
Among elected officials, feelings are mixed about women serving in combat. It has long been considered a politically dicey proposition, given concerns that should female casualties spike, the nation might quickly lose its appetite for war.
Within the military, too, there is division about the prospect. The commission notes that when men in the Army and the Marine Corps were asked about the combat exclusion policy, the majority said the gender exclusions should remain – and the percent increased with rank. However, those figures date from 1997, and senior officials suggest that the current wars have prompted shifts in thinking, and that men who have served with women have fewer misgivings about having them on the front lines.
Few women in the military support the combat exclusions. But debate continues among them over whether women should be able to volunteer for combat arms units, or whether they should be assigned to these units just like their male counterparts.