"In 10 years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of female members have been deployed, and hundreds wounded and/or killed. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), as of August 31, 2011, over 26,000 female members were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. On numerous occasions women have been recognized for their heroism, two earning Silver Star medals. This outcome has resulted in a renewed interest in Congress and beyond in reviewing and possibly refining the role of women in the military. The expansion of roles for women in the armed forces has evolved over decades. Women are not precluded from serving in any military unit by law today. (Past laws that precluded women from serving on board military aircraft and ships assigned combat missions were repealed in the early 1990s.) DOD policy restricting women from serving in ground combat units was most recently modified in 1994. Under this policy, women may not be assigned to units, below the brigade level, whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground. Primarily, this means that women are barred from infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers, and special operations units of battalion size or smaller. Since there are no laws precluding such service, changes made in assigning women are only controlled under current policies which may be modified by the Administration and DOD. […] Among its recommendations, the Commission stated that DOD should take deliberate steps to open additional career fields and units involved in direct ground combat. Such a move would essentially limit or repeal, in its entirety, the 1994 DOD policy regarding women serving in combat units."
CRS Report for Congress, R42075