Fewer than 1 in 5 of the women offered the chance to move into a
combat-related position at Fort Carson took advantage of the
opportunity, according to preliminary data from a pilot program at Fort
The rate of women who took the newly-opened jobs with Fort Carson’s
2nd Brigade Combat Team offered the first glimpse of the appetite female
soldiers have for joining units that are inherently closer to combat.
But opponents to the Defense Department’s 1994 ban on women holding
combat positions said the figure doesn’t truly represent the number of
women who want to serve closer to the front lines.
“I think maybe initially, there’s just a general hesitation to jump
in with both feet into uncharted territory, which is sort of basic human
nature,” said Greg Jacob, the policy director at Service Women’s Action
Network, a New York-based organization aimed at equal rights for women
in the military.
The six-month pilot program was winding up as four women — three
reservists and a Marine set to move from active duty to reserve this
week — filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the ban, the second such suit
Plaintiffs said the ban, which barred women from 238,000 positions
across the Armed Forces, blocked them from promotions and other
advancements open to men in combat.
Defense Department officials and litigants alike acknowledged that combat lines began to blur in Iraq
and Afghanistan, where men and women fought side-by-side and often
faced the same suicide bombers. More than 144 female troops have been
killed and 860 have been wounded in the two wars, according to Pentagon
But while litigants seek immediate change, Defense Department
officials say they want to make sure lifting gender-based barriers would
not disrupt the cohesion of the smaller combat ground units and
Fort Carson’s program began May 14. Women could request a transfer
into four jobs previously off-limits to women, including tank, artillery
and Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle maintenance. A fourth job allowed
women to be radar operators responsible for tracking where enemy fire
originated while coordinating counter attacks.
In addition, some brigade-level jobs — such as chaplain and field
surgeon — were made available at the battalion level, which often serves
closer to the front lines.
Of the 343 soldiers who were eligible to move into the new positions
at Fort Carson, 59 asked to do so, said Maj. Earl Brown, a Fort Carson
spokesman. Forty were ultimately assigned to those posts.
While Fort Carson did not provide a breakdown of those new positions,
Brown said many of the 59 soldiers generally did a similar job in the
past. For example, mechanics might have moved into a new speciality,
such as tank maintenance, he said.
Five other Army installations took part in the pilot program, which
was part of a Defense Department-wide push to open up about 14,300 jobs
The Army — which accounted for nearly 97 percent of those positions — is reviewing how the transition went.
Brown declined to comment on the post’s figures until the review is
complete. The new jobs are “the beginning, not the end, of a process,”
said Eileen Lainez, a Defense Secretary spokeswoman, in an email.
The new positions mean little to many women who want to serve in
infantry units, a career field that accounts for many jobs still
off-limits to women, said Ariela Migdal, an American Civil Liberties
Union attorney representing the women suing the Defense Department.
“What they’re doing in a lot of cases is opening up positions for
women in jobs that women are already allowed to do,” Migdal said
“Our argument… is not that necessarily that every woman in the
military wants to do every single one of those jobs,” she added.
“Combat’s not for everybody. There’s a lot of men who can’t and don’t
want to do those combat arms jobs or who would flunk out of training for
“What our plaintiffs are seeking is the opportunity to compete.”