Women Closer to Front Lines, Medical Positions Affected

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON — Women already are fulfilling critical roles in the U.S. military, and new changes to DoD rules will allow women to officially serve even closer to the front lines in a variety of occupations, including medical positions.  

“Women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission. Through their courage, sacrifice, patriotism and great skill, women have proven their ability to serve in an expanding number of roles on and off the battlefield,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said. “We will continue to open as many positions as possible to women so that anyone qualified to serve can have the opportunity to do so.”

More than 14,000 new positions were opened to women in the U.S. military as a result of those policy changes, which take into account that battlefields today are not as clearly defined as they might have been during past conflicts.

U.S. Army Deputy Surgeon General Maj. Gen. Richard Stone pinned Sgt. Whitney Longwell, currently deployed with 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, with the combat medical badge April 18. Longwell is currently deployed with 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Capt. Addie Randolph.

For example, DoD will no longer restrict women from positions required to be co-located with ground-combat units. In a statement, military officials explained that “because the modern-day battlefield is nonlinear and fluid, with no clearly defined front line or safer rear area, combat-support operations are dispersed throughout the battlespace.

Removal of the co-location exclusion will result in 13,139 Army positions being opened to women, in specialties such as tank mechanic and field artillery radar operator.”

While women will continue to be barred from serving as infantry, armor and special operations forces, the most dangerous combat jobs, they will be allowed to perform their current occupations closer to battlefields — at the battalion level instead of the brigade level.

“The Army, Marines and Navy have been granted exceptions to policy to allow select positions at the battalion level in specialties already open to women, opening 1,186 additional positions. These exceptions to policy will help the services assess the suitability and relevance of the direct ground combat unit assignment prohibition, and inform future policy decisions,” DoD officials explained in a statement.

Medical Positions

Hank Minitrez, chief of public affairs for the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, told U.S. Medicine that all Army medical Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) traditionally have been open to both women and men. In terms of assignment or co-location with direct combat units, however, there were specific positions in units previously closed to women who held the rank of MOS 68W or Health Care Sergeant/Health Care Platoon sergeant (Staff Sgt. and Sgt. 1st. Class, respectively).

Noting that the changes would go into effect in mid-May and undergo a six-month assessment period, Minitrez said in a statement, “They’ll perform their job as they have already been trained. The only difference is at what unit level they’ll be serving, down to battalion level at direct combat units, whereas before it was no lower than brigade level.”

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