May 7, 2012:
The U.S. Army will now allow women to serve in more military jobs (MOSs, or Military Occupational Specialties). Thus women, who make up 16 percent of the army, can now serve in 81 percent of the MOSs. By law women are not allowed in MOSs involving direct combat. That is, if a MOS involved mostly shooting at the enemy, especially on the ground, only men were allowed in those jobs. When this rule was introduced in the 1990s, commanders were aware that many non-combat troops could still be exposed to combat and women were banned from many jobs that were thought likely to bring them into sustained combat.
But as experience in Iraq and Afghanistan (and several other earlier wars) demonstrated, non-combat troops often get exposed to the fighting anyway and this was more common in the last decade. However, by being kept out of the direct combat jobs women were 85 percent less likely to be killed in combat. Noting that many jobs women were barred from still had about the same casualty rates as those women were already in, the army expanded the number of MOSs women could serve in. The most visible result of the change will be women serving in support MOSs in combat (infantry, tank, artillery, engineer) battalions. As a practical matter, this is nothing new. Women have been serving in brigade level support units for two decades, and troops from those units often worked for extended periods with the combat battalions in a brigade. The women in combat battalions will be doing jobs like communications, supply, intelligence, health care, and various staff jobs.