The Army will integrate female infantry and armor Soldiers into its final nine brigade combat teams this year as it modifies a requirement to have at least two female leaders in each company with junior enlisted women.
“We’ve had women in the infantry and armor occupations now for three years,” said Maj. Melissa Comiskey, chief of command policy, Army G-1. Integrating women into combat units has “changed the culture,” she added. “It’s not as different as it was three years ago when the Army first implemented the integration plan.”
When the integration began, a “leaders first” policy required two female officers or NCOs of the same military occupational specialty to be in each company that accepted women straight from initial-entry training.
That rule was modified last year so that only one female infantry or armor leader needed to be in each company, along with another woman of any MOS — such as a supply sergeant or signal NCO.
Now the rule has been further adjusted with a change to the Army Gender Integration Plan that will require only one female officer or NCO to be in companies that accept junior enlisted women.
The director of the Army National Guard has also been given authority to lift the “leader’s first” policy for battalions that have successfully integrated junior enlisted women into at least one of their companies for 12-15 months.
It’s still important, though, for units receiving junior enlisted infantry and armor women to have leaders in place to further develop the culture change of historically all-male organizations, Comiskey said.
“Quite frankly, it’s generally going to be an NCO leader that young Soldiers will turn to for questions. And having an NCO that can share first-hand experiences can be beneficial,” she said.
As integration of more women into combat arms becomes commonplace, male leaders will be able to answer more of the questions, Comiskey said. Right now, however, women make up less than 2% of the infantry and armor force.
Currently 601 women are in Infantry career fields, attending training, or in the accession pipeline. The armor career field has 568 women, including officers. Every year, though, the number of women in combat arms increases, Comiskey said.
Over the remainder of this year, the Army will integrate female armor and infantry Soldiers into the last nine BCTs that don’t have them yet, Comiskey said. Two other BCTs integrated women into their companies earlier this year, she added.
What has slowed the integration so far is that not enough female infantry and armor leaders and Soldiers were in the pipeline.
“The inventory of infantry and armor women leaders is not as high as we have junior Soldiers,” Comiskey said. “And their training pipeline is longer.”
Initially, a small number of female officers and NCOs chose to change their specialties and attend infantry or armor training, becoming the first leaders assigned to companies ahead of junior enlisted women.
Now the first officers that went through the Infantry and Armor Basic Officer Leadership Courses, or BOLC, are becoming company commanders.
“It takes a little bit longer to grow the leaders,” Comiskey said.
The decision to modify the “leaders first” policy was actually made at the Army’s Four-Star Conference in March, she said. Senior leaders realized that the Army’s culture is changing, she added.