February 14, 2017

For Guidance on Women in Combat Positions, Look to the U.S. Coast Guard

By Moira Fagan

In the wake of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s 2015 decision to open all combat positions to women, the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have grappled with the practical realities of following this order. Vocal concerns from military personnel and senior leaders have centered on how integrating women could compromise standards and impact force readiness.

These discussions have overlooked a branch of the Armed Forces where women have long had access to all positions: the United States Coast Guard. It is the smallest service, and the only branch of the military that operates as a function of the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Department of Defense. The Coast Guard strives to protect U.S. maritime interests, with missions covering drug interdiction, environmental protection, immigration law enforcement, and search and rescue, among several others. 

The Coast Guard also offers an established example of what mixed-gender combat units are just beginning to look like. Within its search and rescue mission are the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmers, who typically conduct operations from helicopters in an unforgiving environment, in unrelentingly physical conditions: the open ocean in heavy seas. Rescue swimmers engage in a physically intense job, with the lives of those aboard vessels in distress, as well as the helicopter crew, at stake. This work includes many of the same variables found on the front lines of combat: a high level of risk, the need for physical strength, and the ability to think quickly and adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances. 

Read the full article at Small Wars Journal.

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