The Rand Report on Women in Combat

Women Needed in Combat Units

Seattle Post Intelligencer, August 28, 2007


The D.C. think tank world is known for many things, but not usually for turning out the kind of work that makes you feel like you’ve had contact with something unclean.

On Aug. 7, the Rand Corp., which usually lives up to its motto “Objective Analysis. Effective Solutions,” released its study, “Assessing the Assignment Policy for Army Women.” That’s a euphemism for “Should female soldiers serve in small ground combat units?”

Actually, “released” isn’t quite the right word. They seem to have posted it on their Web site and hoped no one would notice. Given the study’s ugly genesis and odd history, that should not surprise.

In May 2005, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, then chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, began machinating to force the Army to pull female soldiers away from combat units in Iraq with which they were serving. The Army and Marines protested immediately. Congress ordered the Army to submit a report by March 2006 on whether it was complying with current laws and regulations regarding women serving with (legally, they cannot serve in) small units whose main mission is direct combat. The Army responded by passing the study to Rand, for December 2006 submission. The report was apparently completed on schedule but released only now, perhaps in the hope that everyone was at the beach.

In the think tank world, who pays the piper calls the tune. “Here’s your money, here are your conclusions, now go do the study” is Beltway SOP. The report makes it very clear what it was not supposed to do: “inform the policy debate that would emerge from completely removing the assignment policy,” i.e., dropping all remaining restrictions against women serving in infantry, artillery, armor and special forces units, or as such soldiers. Rather, the report did surveys and interviews, focus groups and historical reviews, all leading to a decidedly underwhelming conclusion:

Nobody’s really sure what the policy is anymore, a perception expressed over and over in passages such as:

“The comments indicate that Army personnel believe that there is tension between the current situation in Iraq with respect to Army women and adherence to the 1992 Army assignment policy. Given a choice, most of the Army personnel who participated in our study were inclined to resolve that tension by revising or revoking the policy. It is likely that many of these perceptions were based on very strict interpretations (or misinterpretations) of the assignment policy, and thus a revision that clarifies the terminology and definitions of the policy might possibly address and resolve many of these negative perceptions.”

Confusion apparently stems from the difference between “colocation” (proximity) and “collocation” (proximity and interdependence).

Guess it all depends on what your definition of “is” is.

Still, it would be wrong to blame the authors for 150 pages of tortured prose: tortured because they could not exceed their mandate, even though they knew full well the reality.

The reality is that since September 2001, nearly 200,000 servicewomen (not just soldiers) have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They aren’t kicking down doors and deliberately seeking out insurgents to kill them, but as medics and truck drivers and police, they do routinely engage in whatever combat comes to them and their brothers. Just as routinely, they are attached to the small infantry, armor, artillery and special operations units from which they are legally barred to interact with Iraqi and Afghan women — and also engage in whatever combat comes to them. And these women are winning awards for their performance, awards that include the Bronze Star with combat “V” and the Silver Star.

Given the report’s restrictions, the failure to recognize the magnitude of this accomplishment is shameful and dishonorable. It cheapens their sacrifice and steals their valor.

However, the authors obliquely acknowledge this reality, quoting officers to the effect that the current exclusions are “irrelevant” and recommending that that the military and Congress should “consider whether a prospective policy should exclude women from units and positions in which they have successfully performed in Iraq.” So perhaps another, more charitable interpretation of this report is possible:

The Army might be, as they say, “preparing the battlefield” for a long overdue debate that it can’t or won’t have right now. A debate based not upon what people think servicewomen should and should not be allowed to do, but on what they’ve done and, realistically, will do in the future — as well as the Army’s and the Republic’s absolute need for their service.

Erin Solaro, author of “Women in the Line of Fire,” reported for the P-I from Iraq and Afghanistan. The P-I hosts her blog, “The Woman Citizen.”


Dr. Margaret Harrell, the lead author, replied

Report outlines need for reassessment of policy

I want to correct statements about the RAND Corp. by Erin Solaro in her Wednesday guest column about our report examining the role of U.S. military women in Iraq.First, we did not release our report hoping no one would notice. We distributed a news release to hundreds of reporters, and national media such as National Public Radio have carried details about our findings.

Second, suggestions that our conclusions were predetermined by our sponsor — the Office of the Secretary of Defense — are incorrect. As the commentary itself noted, RAND has a long-standing reputation for independence and objectivity. We did not modify our scope of work or align our findings to meet the desires of our clients or anyone else.

The deployment of large numbers of women to Iraq has raised unprecedented challenges for the U.S. Army. Our report clearly outlines the need for the U.S. military to reassess its policies governing women in combat in light of battlefield conditions where there may be no front line and the enemy can be anywhere.

Margaret Harrell
RAND Corp.

Arlington, Va.

Considering that I had been assured  I was on the list of reporters to receive the report, and  I received a copy back channel from non-RAND sources…


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