Commentary: What Will the Military Front Lines Look Like Now?

As the military lifts its ban on women in combat, let’s remember that almost a third of the female force is African-American.

The Pentagon announced it will lift its ban on women in the military serving in combat positions, potentially opening up hundreds of thousands of positions on front lines to female soldiers. The prohibition on women in combat roles has existed since 1994, though it’s often seemed nominal: hundreds of woman have been injured or killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars despite the official ban.

As the military and America adjusts to a new world in which women find themselves on the battlefield more and more, one obvious inquiry is: What will our nation’s female fighting force look like? Americans have seen many images of male soldiers over the years, but few depictions of their female counterparts. As it turns out, many of those female soldiers are Black.

In a study on women in the military from late 2011, Pew found that female soldiers’ ranks tended to skew more Black than male soldiers’ ranks:

The current active-duty female force is more racially diverse than the male force. Nearly one-third (31%) of active-duty women are black compared with only 16% of men, and a smaller share of active-duty women than men are white (53% vs. 71%).

The full report [PDF] didn’t go into exactly why there is such a large number of Black women in the military, but other studies show that Black women have the highest rates of job satisfaction of anyone in the military—male or female.

It’s of course great to hear that African-American women who sign up for military duty are enjoying the work they do. But now that there will be fewer restrictions on women when it comes to combat, it stands to reason that Black women will be getting killed disproportionately on the battlefield as well. This, sadly, is the reality of war—people die—and it’s a reality the Black community must be prepared to face as we enter this new age of military gender equity.

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