Rampant Sexism and Harassment Encountered by Female Soldiers in Army Special Operations: A Military Report

by Madison Thomas

According to a report released on Monday, female soldiers are facing widespread sexism, harassment, and gender-related obstacles within the male-dominated special operations units of the Army. This comes eight years subsequent to the Pentagon’s decision to open all combat roles to women.

The U.S. Army Special Operations Command, following an extensive study, has found that male soldiers frequently made “overtly sexist” remarks, showing a widespread reluctance to have females in commando roles. These comments were described as representing a common view that women should not be part of special operations teams, rather than isolated opinions.

One male participant stated that the notion that women could perform the majority of roles on an equal physical, mental, and emotional level was “quite frankly ridiculous.” Others threatened to quit if required to serve on a team with a female, citing concerns about problems and jealousy amongst their spouses.

These crude and candid remarks are reminiscent of the challenges faced as women began to move into front line combat roles within the military. They present a troubling and complex situation for military leadership.

The in-depth report included responses from over 5,000 individuals within Army special operations forces units, consisting of 837 female soldiers, 3,238 male soldiers, and the remainder being defense civilians.

Disturbingly, the report revealed that most of the negative attitudes towards women in special operations came from senior noncommissioned officers, hinting at a generational issue. Command Sgt. Maj. JoAnn Naumann remarked on a call with reporters about these findings on Monday.

The 2023 report’s negative sentiments recall stark opposition from special operations troops back in 2015 regarding women in dangerous commando positions. Later in 2015, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter mandated that all combat roles were to be open to women.

This was a momentous change, following three years of research and discussion, and it acknowledged that thousands of women had already served on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, with many being wounded or killed. Although women have achieved significant advancements throughout the military since then, the report highlights that substantial biases persist.

Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, USASOC commander, expressed his belief that personal interactions with female soldiers can change perspectives. He praised female special operations aviators, asserting that the main concern in combat situations was the pilot’s competence, not gender.

Two years ago, a study was ordered by Army special operations leaders to identify and remove obstacles for females in their force, making USASOC the first to conduct such an investigation. It remains uncertain whether other services will follow suit.

The study was concentrated on women in operational roles like Green Berets, Ranger Regiment, aviation, and psychological and civil affairs teams, and also included support roles like engineers, mechanics, and intelligence personnel. The suggested changes are intended to benefit all female members in the command.

Major concerns identified in the report included complaints by female soldiers about sexism, isolation, improper equipment, lack of child care and health care, particularly related to pregnancy, and the belief of being overlooked for roles given to less qualified men.

Many male soldiers expressed that female soldiers were respected and had equal opportunities for promotions. However, some dismissed the career ambitions of women, while others argued that negative opinions would change with experience working with women.

Currently, there are about 2,200 female soldiers in USASOC, constituting nearly 8% of the 29,000 active-duty soldiers, along with 427 female civilians. A small number are in operational roles.

The report made 42 recommendations, some of which have already been implemented, while others are in progress. It emphasized that gender bias is deeply ingrained in the staffing and equipping of the special operations force and stressed the need for a change in mentality.

Particular attention was given to issues such as body armor, helmets, and rucksacks often being unsuitable for female soldiers and small-statured men. The Army has struggled with these concerns, and efforts are ongoing.

Sexual harassment emerged as a complex issue. Though nearly all women in focus groups acknowledged experiencing harassment, few were willing to report it. A lack of trust in commanders and a culture promoting a “thick skin” were cited as factors, contrasting with male soldiers’ fears of career-ending missteps.

This report contributes to an ongoing conversation about gender bias in the military and underscores the need for continued attention and reform.

Contribution to this report was made by AP writer Tara Copp.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about sexism

What does the military report reveal about the treatment of female soldiers in U.S. Army special operations?

The report reveals rampant sexism and harassment against female soldiers within the U.S. Army special operations units. It highlights “overtly sexist” comments, a broad aversion to women serving in commando units, and negative attitudes from senior noncommissioned officers.

How many people were surveyed in the report, and what was the composition?

The exhaustive report surveyed more than 5,000 people assigned to Army special operations forces units, including 837 female troops, 3,238 male troops, and the rest defense civilians.

What were the significant issues identified in the report concerning female soldiers?

The report identified major issues such as sexism, isolation, poor-fitting and inadequate equipment, lack of child care and health care (especially during pregnancy), and a belief among female soldiers that they are passed over for jobs that are then given to less qualified men.

Have any steps been taken to address the concerns raised in the report?

Yes, the report made 42 recommendations. Some of these, involving increased training and awareness of sexual harassment, mentorship, health care, and other issues, have been implemented, while other changes are still in progress.

What was the response of male soldiers in the report regarding female colleagues?

Many male soldiers expressed that female soldiers were respected and had equal chances for promotions, but there were mixed opinions. Some dismissed female career ambitions, while others felt that negative opinions would change with experience working with women.

How has the Army been addressing issues related to equipment for female soldiers?

The report acknowledged the Army’s ongoing efforts to address problems related to body armor, helmets, and rucksacks often being unsuitable for female soldiers and small-statured men. Efforts to provide scalable vests and better-fitting protective gear are ongoing.

What is the stance on sexual harassment according to the report?

Sexual harassment emerged as a common yet complex issue. Nearly every woman in focus groups said she had experienced harassment, but very few were willing to report it. Women expressed fear of reprisal and lack of trust in commanders, contrasting with male soldiers’ fears of career-ending missteps.

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John Smith August 21, 2023 - 11:05 pm

Can’t belive what’s happening to our women in the military. It’s high time for change! Who’s going to take action??

Sara O'Connor August 22, 2023 - 12:58 am

i read the report and it made me so mad. Women deserve better, not just empty words but real action

Emily Thompson August 22, 2023 - 1:34 pm

It’s shocking to see such behavior still going on in the military. Where’s the leadership on this. Makes me wonder if they even care.

Mike Johnson August 22, 2023 - 1:52 pm

Really? This again? Haven’t we moved past these issues already? seems like nothing changes, just talk no action

Tom Harris August 22, 2023 - 6:29 pm

This report is a wake-up call, but will it actually change anything. I’m not so sure about that.


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