Thomas Lyon

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci

Second Advisor

Lilia Savova

Third Advisor

Christopher M. Kuipers


In January of 2016 all U.S. military branches, under orders from the Pentagon, lifted their ban on women in combat, meaning that women could apply for any military job, including combat positions that had previously been male-only jobs. According to PBS NewsHour, “Carter said that the military would be opening all ‘remaining occupations and positions to women. there will be no exceptions [sic]’” (Tobia). The controversy surrounding this issue started well before 2016 though. In 1993, when women were first allowed to fly combat aircraft, it happened at a time when the “military [had already] long . . . resisted efforts to open combat roles to women” (Lancaster 1993). Even now, in 2018, controversy remains. Just after the Pentagon issued the ruling to lift the ban in December of 2015, Marine General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, publicly doubted the claim made by the Pentagon that physical training standards for military jobs would not be lowered in order to accommodate female troops. PBS NewsHour claimed that General Kelly stated that “the military will eventually be pressured to lower the qualifications so more women can serve in jobs like the Marine infantry” (Baldor and Regan, “Debate over Women in Combat Continues”). Despite all this, the ban has been lifted and integration efforts in the military are well underway, including among Army and Marine infantry units, the biggest ground combat components of the U.S. military.

My purpose throughout this analysis of the issue of women in combat is to present a balanced view—the good, the bad, and the reality of the women’s lived experiences in combat. The first set of data looked at in Chapter IV are two combat memoirs from women who have seen military combat. The first woman, Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, was an Air Force helicopter pilot who was shot down while on a combat rescue mission in Iraq. Her story is retold in her book, Shoot like a Girl. The second woman, Capt. Jane Blair, served as a Marine officer in Iraq and recounts her combat experience in Hesitation Kills.

In addition, Chapter V presents an analysis of recent online discourse—news articles and reader responses—by people, many female veterans themselves, who are passionate one way or the other on the issue of women in combat. The online analysis is presented via themes connected back to research looked at in the Literature Review, which brought up major arguments from both sides of the issue of women in combat.

Ultimately, my goal for this research is to present an example of the reality of women’s combat experience, through the personal writings of women who have been there; that is done with the stories from Capt. Blair and Maj, Hegar. Secondly, I want readers to get a clear understanding of the arguments being made from both sides of the issue, along with the sources of support used to ground these claims, as they are represented through major news publications. Through this balanced look at the issue, readers are better able to create their own opinions and ideas about this highly complex and controversial issue.