buzzwords for the decade were "combat exclusion." Clearly,
women of the '80s neither needed nor wanted this exclusion and many
civilian policymakers in Congress and the Department of Defense
supported women's competence to fulfill combat missions. Most military
leaders thought differently.
The Army's Direct Combat Probability
Coding (DCPC) system of 1983 illustrated the military's position.
Using the DCPC, the Army rated each assignment along a continuum.
Jobs with low probability of enemy contact were on one end and those
of high probability were on the other and closed to women. The DCPC
forced women out of jobs and units where their capability was already
Even with the limitations imposed
on their service, women filled positions that made combat exclusion
policies difficult to define and enforce. All services trained women
as pilots and aviation crew. The Coast Guard and Navy provided some
opportunities for seagoing and command assignments. Women received
weapons training, served as military police, embassy guards, in
weapons deployment and other positions that blurred differentiations
between combat and noncombat positions, particularly under conditions
of modern warfare and technological advances. Women in the Air Force,
for example, could launch ICBMs with nuclear warheads to eliminate
enemy targetsbut they could not serve in air-to-air combat.
1983, when the United States entered Grenada, women were an integral
part of combat-ready units and had the skills needed in their jobs.
As a result, 170 female soldiers served in Operation Urgent Fury
in the first gender-integrated units ever deployed. Officially,
they were part of a combat-ready invasion force, trained in combat
roles; illogically, their jobs fell in the noncombatant classification.
Under pressure and faced with complaints and
inconsistencies, the Army fine-tuned the DCPC, opening 12,000 more
positions to women by 1987. And when the invasion of Panama occurred
in 1989, close to 800 military women took part in Operation Just
Cause, the largest deployment of US troops since Vietnam. Women
found themselves dodging bullets and returning fire as they served
in a variety of combat support and combat service support roles.
Combat operations clearly were not limited to members of the infantrya
field still closed to women. As helicopter pilots and military police,
they commanded assault teams and served under heavy enemy fire in
the air and on the ground.
(Read about Linda Bray, the first woman accredited with leading
troops into battle.)
The press seized their stories, and issues of
women in combat moved outside the Pentagon into public debate. But
substantial policy change did not occur until the Persian Gulf War
during the 1990s.