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Posted on Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Women in combat: Will it strengthen the military?

By Wayne Baker

0128 US Army door gunner in Iraq 2010.jpg

The U.S. military policy barring women from combat prevented women from serving in “units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” So, that did not prevent Crisma Albarran of California from serving as a Black Hawk door gunner in Iraq. During her first Iraqi deployment she worked on gasoline supply services but, in her second deployment in 2010, she wanted to play a more active role in hot spots.

Photo from the U.S. Army, released for public use.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing women in combat.

Women now can serve in direct combat on the ground, according to an announcement last week by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army General Martin Dempsey. This decision rescinds a 1994 policy that prohibited women from serving in combat roles.

So, I am asking readers: Do you support the decision? And: Will women in combat strengthen the military?

The Department of Defense believes it will. At the news conference, General Dempsey said, “Today we are acting to expand the opportunities for women to serve in the United States armed forces and to better align our policies with the experiences we have had over the past decade of war. Ultimately, we’re acting to strengthen the joint force.”

Women are about 15 percent of the U.S. military’s active-duty personnel. To serve in a combat role, women (and men) have to meet “gender-neutral occupational standards.”

About 53,000 positions will now be open to women, according to the Department of Defense news article. (Read more details here.)

If you support the decision to allow women in combat roles, you have a lot of company. Almost three of four Americans (74 percent) say they would vote “for” a law that allowed women to service in combat roles, according to a Gallup poll conducted right after the announcement of the new policy.

Women (76 percent) are slightly more likely than men (73 percent) to support allowing women in combat roles. Democrats are more supportive than Republicans, but 70 percent of Republicans also are in favor of women being able to serve in combat. Younger Americans (18-49) overwhelmingly support the idea, with 84 percent saying that would vote for such a law. But a large majority (63 percent) of older Americans (50 and up) also support it.

Do you support allowing women to serve in combat roles?

Do you think it will strengthen the military?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.