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Women’s Combat Roles Evolving in Iraq, Afghanistan

Although U.S. military policy prevents women from taking certain war zone assignments, they are increasingly filling dangerous jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. An author, Army sergeant and retired Navy captain discuss the changing role of women in combat.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, our look at the evolving role of women in combat.

    One more casualty of the war in Iraq brought home to Decatur, Illinois, last weekend. In this case, the soldier's vehicle was hit in Baghdad on June 21st by a rocket-propelled grenade. But this death is one of those that makes this war unique, for it was a woman, 22-year-old Army Specialist Karen Clifton.

    She is one of the most recent of more than 80 women who have so far been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a figure nearly double the number of American military women killed in Desert Storm, Vietnam, and Korea, combined. Some 500 have been wounded, many grievously.

    American women are serving in the U.S. military today in ways and numbers unthinkable a few decades ago. They are now eligible to fill more than 80 percent of military jobs, 250,000 different assignments, often serving side-by-side with men.

    So far, women have served some 167,000 tours of duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than four times the number in the first Gulf War. They are not assigned to infantry units, to tanks or submarines, and Pentagon policy officially precludes them from serving in so-called "combat occupations." But in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where no clear frontlines exist, such distinctions are often hard to make.

    Women in both theaters today drive Humvees and trucks, escort military convoys, serve as military police, even pilot helicopters and planes on the battlefield, all of it done under the very real — and constant — threat of attack. And like men, many women of the U.S. Armed Services have by now served several tours in the war zones.

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