U.S. Special Operations Forces soldiers assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) perform safety inspections in preparation for an airborne operations training exercise, February 22, 2019.

U.S. Special Operations Forces soldiers assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) perform safety inspections in preparation for an airborne operations training exercise, February 22, 2019. U.S. Army / Jason D. Johnston

Women face misogyny, barriers to promotion in special operations forces, US Army study says

The “very small percentage” of respondents who espoused such views included officers and senior enlisted leaders.

Women fighting in the U.S. Army’s special operations forces face misogyny, gender-based barriers to promotion, and ill-fitting equipment, according to a 2021 report released today by U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Among the report’s conclusions is that there is an “active subset” of soldiers who hold a range of misogynistic views, with at least some seeming to believe that any policies that sought to end the traditional exclusion of women from Army special operations were a dangerous product of political correctness.  

“The idea that women are EQUALLY as physically, mentally and emotionally capable as men to effectively perform the majority of jobs” within Army special operations forces is “ridiculous,” said one male senior non-commissioned officer who submitted comments for the report. 

Women who do join special forces units in support roles “are looking for a husband, boyfriend or attention,” said another male senior non-commissioned officer quoted in the report. “I know this won’t get read because it will be screened beforehand, so whatever. I will just retire and watch my country fail right after I watch my unit fail.”

The study, which sought comments from 5,010 Army Special Operations Forces soldiers and civilians through surveys, group discussions, and interviews in 2021 found that most respondents did not express such views. But many of those who did held leadership positions as senior enlisted soldiers and junior officers up to the rank of captain. 

Female special operations soldiers who participated in focus groups for the study were unsurprised to hear these views, the report’s authors said. One woman suggested that her unit’s commanding general needed to “put out that if you think like this, then we don’t want you in our formation.” 

The report was released after Military Times filed a freedom-of-information-act request.

The leader of Army Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga called the findings “disappointing.”

Female Army helicopter pilots achieved “some of the most daring” assaults into enemy territory, Braga told reporters on Monday. “I don't think anyone in the back of this helicopter was like, ‘Man, I wish it was a male pilot’.” 

The study has led to the incorporation of its findings into the training process for new soldiers, the creation of a sexual-harassment awareness course, and support for a female mentorship initiative.

There will be no repercussions for the “very small percentage” of respondents who expressed misogyny in their comments, which were collected anonymously, said Cmd. Sgt. Maj. JoAnne Naumann, the senior enlisted leader of Army Special Operations Command. 

“Education is far more important than a witch hunt,” Naumann said.

“Frequently, that perspective is just based on the fact that they have not served with women,” she added. 

But opportunities to serve alongside men, particularly in combat jobs, have long been limited by regulations and decisions made by men. 

The report cites women who said they had been denied opportunities for combat by male colleagues; one said her male teammates had decided it was “too risky” for her to leave the base during a deployment. 

And women who lack deployment or other experiences due to what the report called “benevolent sexism” can find it harder to win promotion, the report said.

One female non-commissioned officer said she would be leaving the Army after spending two years being passed up for deployments and training events after having a child. 

Women also struggle with a lack of equipment and training programs designed for their bodies, the report said. Because body armor designed for men is often ill-fitting, many women said they disobeyed regulations and bought their own at personal expense. 

Army special operations forces are currently testing various forms of body armor that would provide a better fit. One prototype is slated for testing in February 2024.