Military affairs beat: Women stand out as their ranks grow

  • Article by: Mark Brunswick
  • Star Tribune
  • January 3, 2012 - 6:01 PM

A Pew Research Center report on women in today's American military shows that they differ from men who serve: A greater share are black and a smaller share are married; and they are more likely to be critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are some similarities, too. For instance, veterans of both sexes share similar kinds of struggles and satisfaction after re-entering civilian life. Half say they have experienced strains in family life, and 42 percent report suffering from post-traumatic stress. On the other hand, 97 percent feel proud of their service, the report found.

While expected reductions may change the numbers in the coming years, women have had an increased presence in America's military. From 1973, when the draft was eliminated, to 2010, the number of active-duty enlisted women in the military has nearly quadrupled from about 42,000 to 167,000, even as the enlisted force as a whole has decreased by about 738,000. Nearly one-third of active-duty women are black, compared with only 16 percent of men.

Official Pentagon policy prohibits women from being assigned to combat units below the brigade level, but women have increasingly seen combat. Among living veterans from any era, only 15 percent of women served in combat, compared with 35 percent of men. But 10 years of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broadening role of women in all aspects of the military are changing the figure, from 7 percent among female veterans who served before 1990 to 24 percent for female veterans afterward.

The Pew Research survey, released in late December, found that women veterans are more critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than their male counterparts. Sixty-three percent said the Iraq war was not worth it, and 54 percent said Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. That's compared with 47 percent and 39 percent of male veterans. Interestingly, there are no significant differences in opinions on the wars between men and women in the general public. • 612-673-4434

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