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Gender integration of the military has occurred at a slower pace than racial integration.
The passage of the Armed Services Integration Act, which made women an ofﬁcial part of
the military, occurred in 1948206
—the same year as President Truman’s Executive Order on
204 At its peak in 1945, the Army had approximately 8.2 million soldiers. (Kent Roberts Greenﬁeld, Robert R. Palmer, & Bell
I. Wiley, “The Organization of Ground Combat Troops,” in US Army in World War II (Washington, DC: Center of Military
205 RAND, 2010, 98–102 .
206 Judith Bellafaire, “America’s Military Women—The Journey Continues,” Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Foundation, accessed November 19, 2010, http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/WHM982.html.
racial desegregation. But it took many years to expand the military occupational specialties
open to women, and even today, certain specialties are restricted to men only.
In 1948, women were limited to 2% of active duty personnel in each of the Services,207
and there were signiﬁcant limitations on the positions they could ﬁll. It was not until the
late-1970s that the number and the roles of women in the military increased. This coincided
with the introduction of the all-volunteer force, the end of the Vietnam War, projected
shortages of military personnel, and the national debate over the Equal Rights Amendment
and women’s rights generally. In 1976, women entered the Service academies for the ﬁrst
time and ﬂight training was opened to women. In 1977, the Coast Guard assigned the ﬁrst
woman to sea duty, and in 1978, women were allowed to serve on noncombatant ships in the
Navy. In 1978, the Women’s Army Corps was disbanded and women were integrated into
the regular Army.
These events did not happen without resistance or controversy. As with racial
integration, the initial concerns most frequently raised were predictions about negative
impacts to unit cohesion and military effectiveness. Many leaders expressed concerns about
women breaking from what they perceived to be traditional roles in society and questioned
the physical capabilities of female Service members, especially in combat settings. For
example, in an October 1943 memo, the Marine Corps’ director of Plans and Policies,
Brigadier General C. Thomas stated, “The American Tradition is that a woman’s place is in
and “Women do not take kindly to regimentation.”209
Similarly, three decades
later in 1976, General William C. Westmoreland, who had retired four years earlier as Army
Chief of Staff stated, “The purpose of West Point is to train combat ofﬁcers, and women are
not physically able to lead in combat. Maybe you could ﬁnd one woman in 10,000 who could
lead in combat, but she would be a freak, and we’re not running the Military Academy for
Surveys of Service members showed similar opposition. In 1977, over 80% of upperclass
midshipmen preferred that the U.S. Naval Academy remained an all-male institution.211
In 1981 and 1982 U.S. Navy surveys of ships’ crews receiving women indicated concerns
about discipline and cohesion. In these surveys, lower ranking enlisted personnel generally
were more open to gender integrated crews, while the chief petty ofﬁcers and commissioned
ofﬁcers generally opposed gender integration.212
207 John Whiteclay Chambers II, ed, The Oxford Companion to American Military History (New York: Oxford, 2000).
208 Erin R. Mahan et al., OSD Historians Ofﬁce, meeting and spreadsheet, July 23, 2010.
209 Erin R. Mahan et al., OSD Historians Ofﬁce, meeting and spreadsheet, July 23, 2010.
210 Erin R. Mahan et al., OSD Historians Ofﬁce, meeting and spreadsheet, July 23, 2010.
211 Kathleen P. Durning, Women at the Naval Academy: The First Year of Integration (San Diego: Navy Personnel Research and
Development Center, February 1978), 23.
212 Patricia Thomas, Women in the Military: Gender Integration at Sea (San Diego: Navy Personnel Research and Development
Center, May 1981); Carol S. Greebler, Patricia J. Thomas, and Judy D. Kuczynski, Men and Women in Ships: Preconceptions of
the Crews (San Diego: Navy Personnel Research and Development Center, August 1982).
Today women make up about 14% of the force and can serve in over 92% of the
occupational specialties in the military.213
As time has gone by, many barriers have gone
down. Women have been a part of combat ﬂying units since the early 1990s, and this
summer women were allowed to attend submarine school for the ﬁrst time. Though all
the Military Services (with the exception of the Coast Guard) retain some restrictions on
assignments, women are, in fact, routinely exposed to the dangers of combat operations.
This is exempliﬁed by the fact that combat casualty rates for women in Operation Iraqi
Freedom are higher than in any combat operation in our nation’s history, and in 2005 the
ﬁrst Silver Star was awarded to a woman for combat action.214
As with racial integration, the expansion of women’s roles in the military have not
brought a degradation in military readiness, military effectiveness, or unit cohesion. At
the same time, similar to racial integration, the integration of women has not been without
incident, sometimes with national attention. In September 1991, the nation learned of the
sexual misconduct of scores of Naval Ofﬁcers at the annual Tailhook Convention in Las
Vegas. In 1996, the Army brought charges against 12 commissioned and non-commissioned
male ofﬁcers for sexual assault of female trainees at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. More
recently, the United States Air Force Academy faced national scrutiny when multiple cases
of sexual assault and rape were reported by female cadets in 2003. These incidents have
highlighted the need for military leaders to remain focused on integration implementation,
including leadership, standards of conduct, and sexual assault and harassment prevention.
Despite these ongoing concerns related to harassment and assault, it is clear that the
introduction and integration of women into the force has made our military stronger.
We note some differences and similarities between the advances in equality for women
over the past six decades and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
First, gender, as with race, is an obvious identifying characteristic, whereas, sexual
orientation is not.
Second, the religious and moral objections to women serving in the military, while
stronger than religious objections to racial integration, do not rise to the same level as
religious and moral objections concerning service by gay or lesbian individuals. While some
may hold more traditional views on the roles of women based on religious or moral grounds,
for the most part, women are welcome and successful at all levels of the chain of command.
Third, although the integration of women has involved restrictions on military
occupational specialties, including exclusion from ground combat units, we do not recommend
213 Defense Manpower Data Center, “Female Representation in the Active Component—1980, 1987, & 1990-2009,” Excel
spreadsheet; OSD(P&R), e-mail communication to CRWG, November 12, 2010.
214 Silver Star awarded to Army Sgt. Lee Ann Hester June, 2005 for valorous action in combat, defeating an enemy ambush on
their convoy. There were four previous women who received the Silver Star in World War II for evacuating 42 patients from a
ﬁeld hospital under ﬁre.
similar limitations for sexual orientation upon repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Gay men and
lesbians are currently serving across the Services in combat and combat support roles, and
we would expect them to continue to do so after repeal.
Fourth, issues of proper relationships, public displays of affection, and harassment
that arose after integrating women will certainly surface after repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Just as military leaders continue to be vigilant in addressing incidents of sexual harassment
and assault, we must remain committed over the long term to leadership, professionalism,
and respect, regardless of sexual orientation.
Comparison between our military and those of other nations is far from perfect, but
here too we ﬁnd some information relevant to our assessment.
The Working Group researched the policies regarding military service by gays and
lesbians in the 43 NATO and ISAF partner nations.215
Of these, the Working Group identiﬁed
35 that permit gays and lesbians to serve openly in their military. The Working Group
conﬁrmed that six nations—the United States, Bulgaria, Jordan, Poland, Turkey, and the
United Arab Emirates—exclude gay men and lesbians from serving or serving openly in
the military by policy. For the remaining two nations, the Working Group was unable to
determine their policies regarding service by gays and lesbians. In some nations, actual
practice toward gays and lesbians in the military may differ from ofﬁcial policy.
Table 24. Personnel Policies Regarding Military Service by Gay Men and Lesbians
in NATO and ISAF Partner Nations
Permit Gay/Lesbian Open Service,
or No Ban on Homosexual Conduct
Exclude Gays and
Lesbians, or Open
Nations in Bold: Ofﬁcial Government Information, Nations in Italics: Secondary Source Data
215 The Working Group undertook to research the policies of all nations around the world, by contacting embassies and researching
foreign laws and policies. This research proved inconclusive in many instances. For many countries, the Working Group was
unable to obtain deﬁnitive information on their policies. This exercise was further complicated by the fact that many countries
may not have a formal military policy banning gays and lesbians or open service, but the countries’ civilian laws criminalize
homosexuality or homosexual conduct as a general matter.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?