Women in the Military

July 10, 1981

Report Outline
New ‘Pause’ in Recruiting
Changing Roles and Duties
Overcoming Unique Problems
Special Focus

New ‘Pause’ in Recruiting

Administration's Recent Policy Shift

Women have come a long way in the U.S. military in the last decade. In 1973, the year the draft ended and the all-volunteer force came into being, women made up only 1.6 percent of total military personnel. Today there are more than 170,000 women on active duty in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force — 8.4 percent of the total.

The Pentagon began actively recruiting women soon after the draft ended when the armed forces came up short in the number of male recruits. To encourage female enlistments, the services opened up new opportunities for women. All but a handful of the hundreds of military job specialties — those directly involving combat — are now open to women. The service academies have been admitting women since 1976. And the separate-but-not-quite-equal women's auxiliary branches of the armed forces have been eliminated. Today, most aspects of military life, from basic training to K.P., are the same for men and women.

Many of the gains made by women in the armed forces came during the Carter administration. Harold Brown, Carter's secretary of defense, set a goal of increasing the percentage of women in the services to 12 percent by 1986. For advocates of equal rights for female military personnel, the future seemed bright. But under the Reagan administration the picture is changing. The 12 percent goal has been shelved, and signals from the Pentagon in the last six months strongly indicate a shift in policy. Feminists also are concerned about the implications of the June 25 Supreme Court ruling that Congress may exclude women from draft registration and, presumably, from the draft itself.

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Civil Rights: Women
Women in the Military