Forces: Ukrainian Female Soldiers


March 31, 2024: After Russia invaded Ukraine, one of the responses was that more than 60,000 Ukrainian women volunteered to join the military. Most of the women served in non-combat jobs but at least 5,000 served in the combat zone, many of them as snipers. As of early 2024, 600 of the female soldiers have been wounded, about a hundred of them died. Before the Russians invaded in 2022, female volunteers comprised about 15 percent of the army. Since the invasion a lot more men than women joined the army and now women comprise less than ten percent of the troops. Some female soldiers joined a decade ago when Russian seized Crimea and parts of two eastern provinces. Few of those women remained in the military from 2014 to 2022. After the Russians invaded many of the women who left returned to the army.

There are so many women in the army now that the army finally got around to ordering uniforms designed for women rather than having the women wear men’s uniforms, including protective vests and boots. Some women went and purchased uniforms designed for women from commercial uniform makers. Before that the female soldiers had to modify the male uniforms to make them wearable while working. Civilians donated money for the purchase of uniforms that fit the female soldiers. This included a crowdfunding campaign.

While many women are killed or injured while doing support work in a combat zone, nearly a hundred women are serving as snipers. As was discovered during World War II, women make excellent snipers, often becoming more proficient than men. Many of those Soviet Union army snipers were from Ukraine and, along with their Russian compatriots, were honored by the Soviet Union for killing so many German invaders. Now the Ukrainian female snipers are honored for killing Russian invaders. The Russian invaders have not been as brutal as the World War II Germans, but the Russians have attacked and killed a lot of Ukrainian civilians as they fight Ukrainian soldiers.

The Ukrainian armed forces need more female volunteers because there are not enough men. The army regularly conscripts physically and psychologically fit military age men for the army. This had led many such men to flee the country, often illegally, to avoid service. More men then must be conscripted to replace the deserters. Female volunteers also make up for male draft dodgers because most jobs in any army are administrative or combat support. Only about 15 percent are for combat zone jobs. The army seeks male volunteers for combat jobs and when not enough volunteers are available, some are conscripted into combat jobs. Ukrainian casualties are much lower than Russian because Ukrainian forces are defending most of the time and receive better training and equipment than their Russian counterparts. Russian casualties have been so high, 1.0 – 1.2 million, that Russia has sought to recruit women for the military. Some women responded, but not as many as the army needed, and the government did not press the matter because, by law, women cannot be conscripted. Left unsaid was that the invasion of Ukraine was very unpopular with many Russians, especially since so many Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded and the war continues. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s was unpopular and one of the reasons the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russian losses in Ukraine are, so far, ten times what they were in Afghanistan.

The growing number of women in the military is largely driven by the need for people with scarce skills. Over 80 percent of military jobs have little, or nothing, to do with combat. That means if you can't find enough qualified men you can recruit women. This is especially true in the West, where females tend to be better educated than males and women comprise about ten percent of the troops in Western armed forces. In the United States this is 15 percent for active duty troops and 18 percent for the reserves. Civilian contractors, who are taking back some of the military jobs they performed for thousands of years, have an even higher percentage of females.

All this reflects growing female participation in the post-agricultural economy. We tend to forget that as recently as the 19th century 90 percent of humanity was engaged in agriculture. It had been that way for thousands of years. With industrialization women began to stay at home with the children and no longer work the same jobs as they did in the agricultural economy alongside their husbands. But in the last seventy years women have returned to their traditional place in the economy.

In the last decade the use of contractor personnel reached nearly fifty percent of the force, providing lots of opportunities for women. This was new, as in the last century there were fewer contractors and fewer women working those jobs.

In the Vietnam War contractors were 16 percent of the force. In the Korean War it was 28 percent of the force. During World War II it was 12 percent, it was 4 percent in World War I, during the U.S. Civil War it was 17 percent, during the Mexican American War it was 15 percent, and during the Revolutionary War it was 18 percent. It was not just the U.S. that was using contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, but many other nations around the world have been doing the same thing. It's particularly popular in Europe, and even Russia and China are picking up on this. And this has been going on everywhere for a long time.

This current trend in using women and contractors is actually a return to the past, when many of the non-combat troops were civilians. Another problem is the shrinking proportion of troops who actually fight. A century ago, most armies comprised over 80 percent fighters and the rest were camp followers in uniform referred to as support troops. Today the ratio is reversed and therein resides a major problem. Way back in the day the support troops were called camp followers, and they took care of supply, support, medical care, maintenance, and entertainment. It was the occasional sexual activity by the women that gave camp followers a bad reputation. The majority of these people were men, and some of them were armed, mainly for defending the camp if the soldiers were defeated and needed somewhere to retreat to.

The military is using a lot more civilians now because of economics. In an age when most troops are highly paid volunteers, it's cheaper to hire additional civilians, on short term contracts, than it is to recruit and train more troops. In most ancient armies, most of the force were camp followers.

One of the great revolutions in military operations in this century has been in the enormous increase in support troops. This came after a sharp drop in the proportion of camp followers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Before that it was common for an army on the march to consist of 10-20 percent soldiers and the rest were camp followers. There was a reason for this. Armies in the field were camping out and living rough could be unhealthy and arduous if you didn't have a lot of servants along to take care of the camping equipment and help out with the chores. Generals usually had to allow a lot of camp followers in order to get the soldiers to go along with the idea of campaigning.

Only the most disciplined armies could do away with all those camp followers and get the troops to do their own housekeeping. The Romans had such an army, with less than half the troops being camp followers. But the Romans' system was not re-invented until the 18th century, when many European armies trained their troops to do their own chores in the field, just as the Romans had. In the 19th century steamships and railroads came along and made supplying the troops even less labor intensive and more dependent on civilian support troops. The widespread introduction of conscription in the 19th century also made it possible to get camp followers cheaply by drafting them and putting them in uniform.

Most of the growing quantities of supplies and equipment for the troops were provided by civilians in the form of workers who produced the weapons and other supplies back home, and then ran the ships and railroads that carried all this stuff to the troops. Gradually, as one gets closer to the fighting, more and more of the support people are in uniform, often doing the same jobs as others further back. But as a result of this trend, and the increasing use of technology, today's armies are less than 20 percent warriors and the rest camp followers in uniform. In effect, the uniformed camp followers outnumber the fighters in the armed forces.

While the senior commanders still come from the ranks of the fighters, they are vastly outnumbered by non-warrior officers. This has created management problems in that more numerous support forces have an impact on how effective the smaller number of combat troops are. While support troops are critical to the effective performance of modern armed forces, it's still the warriors that do the actual fighting. But in peacetime the warrior general officers are increasingly outnumbered by the camp follower general officers. This has led to less of a warrior mentality and more of a camp follower one. Naturally, in pitched battle an army led by a warrior will trounce one led by a camp follower. But you need a real, live war to prove that, while in peacetime you can believe whatever you want or can convince the media and your superiors to embrace.

The U.S. military has been hiring contractors more and more since the 1960s but does not give a lot of publicity to the program, mainly because some of the contractors, especially those in medical jobs, get paid far more than someone in uniform doing the same job. But many of the civilians, hired to do what was previously done by soldiers, are only making as much, or less, than the troops because support personnel do not receive the financial fringe benefits soldiers are paid.

Some American generals have said they want to dispense with expensive foreign contractors because they believe these people are much more expensive than soldiers would be, doing the same work. That is not always possible, as some of these contractors are technical specialists in areas like electronics and communications for which the military has no counterparts.

The military has always had a lot of civilians around but more of them are now doing jobs in combat zones or out in the field. Many of the civilians are retired from the military or have served for a few years. They know the drill, and what they are getting into, but do it for the big payday.

In the last half century conscription has fallen out of favor but volunteer troops are too expensive to be used for a lot of support jobs, so more and more of these chores are contracted out to civilians. Even if you're in a modern combat zone, you often won't even notice a lot of contractor civilians. They often wear army combat uniforms without any rank insignia. Some are armed. They work for the army without being in the army. But the truth of the situation is that the military has been going back to the past to find the future.

Generals who try to get rid of civilian contractors soon face resistance from subordinate commanders who will point out that more troops assigned to support jobs will mean fewer available for combat.




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