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Letter to The Honorable Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense

June 17, 2011

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1155

Dear Secretary Gates:

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission's report, From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership for the 21st Century Military informed the nation that the Armed Services should systematically develop a demographically diverse leadership that reflects the forces it leads and the public it serves. Additionally, the Commission recommended that the Services expand their diversity to include the range of backgrounds, skills, and personal attributes that are necessary for enhancing military performance. One issue the Commission highlighted that we would like more information about is the effect of the Department of Defense's combat exclusion policy on women in the Armed Services.

The Department of Defense's current policy as it relates to women in the Armed Services states that "women may not serve in units that (1) engage an enemy on the ground with weapons, (2) are exposed to hostile fire, and (3) have a high probability of direct physical contact with personnel of a hostile force," yet 134 female service members have been killed, and 721 have been wounded in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission's report highlights the inconsistency of DOD's policy with the reality of deployments, stating: "the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been anything but conventional. As a result, some of the female Servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have already been engaged in activities that would be considered combat related, including being collocated with combat units and engaging in direct combat for self-defense." The Commission subsequently recommended eliminating the combat exclusion policy for women.

We respectfully request additional information regarding the inconsistency of the current combat exclusion policy, whereby women are being "attached" to combat arms units that consistently engage the enemy on the ground with weapons, repeatedly encounter hostile fire, and frequently expose them to direct physical contact with personnel of a hostile force, yet women are not being adequately recognized for having served in combat arms functions when it comes to documenting these experiences in their military records and DD214s. Additionally, we are concerned that this policy unnecessarily restricts combatant commanders from selecting the best personnel to participate in missions solely based on gender.

We hope you will provide a more comprehensive explanation of the capacity in which the 255,000 women who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have served, specifically those that have been "attached" to combat arms units during their deployments. In accordance with the current combat exclusion policy, what roles are open to women and from which are they precluded? Does the policy inhibit commanders from effectively engaging in counterinsurgency operations?

Given the fact that women are now serving alongside and collocated with combatant troops, what measures are being taken to ensure they receive appropriate training prior to deployment? Finally, when non-combat arms troops engage the enemy on the ground with weapons or are exposed to hostile fire, how is this being reflected in their military records other than the issuance of a combat action decoration?

In summary, we hope you will provide more details about the increased capacity in which women are serving and how the Department is working to ensure that the issues of training, equal opportunities for promotion and career advancement, and proper treatment upon redeployment are addressed.

We look forward to your timely response to this inquiry and to working with you to update the Department's policies in a way that fully reflects the critical role women are playing in today's armed forces, ensures that women receive the much-deserved credit they earn during their military careers, and makes certain that our nation fields the most qualified troops regardless of gender.


Senator Gillibrand

Senator McCaskill

Senator Cardin

Senator Wyden

Senator Franken

Senator Merkley

Senator Hagan

Senator Lautenberg

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