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Women in the military have a history that extends over 4,000 years into the past, throughout a vast number of cultures and nations. Women have played many roles in the military, from ancient warrior women, to the women currently serving in conflicts. See Also: Women in the military by country.
Despite various roles in the armies of past societies, the role of women in the military, particularly in combat, is controversial and it is only recently that women have begun to be given a more prominent role in contemporary armed forces. As increasing numbers of countries begin to expand the role of women in their militaries, the debate continues.
From the beginning of the 1970s, most Western armies began to admit women. Only some of them permit women to fill active combat roles, including New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Israel, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland. Other nations allow female soldiers to serve in certain Combat Arms positions, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, which allows women to serve in Artillery roles, while still excluding them from units with a dedicated Infantry role. The United States allows women in most combat flying positions. Turkey uses female officers in combat flying (bombardment) missions over Northern Iraq and in ISAF patrol missions in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Sgt Leigh Ann Hester, among other decorated soldiers in the Raven 42 unit, received the Silver Star, the third highest US combat decoration. While nurses under fire had received this award previously, Hester was the first woman to receive it for direct participation in combat.
The female skeletal system is less dense, and more prone to breakages. There was also concern that, in aviation, the female body is not as adept at handling the increased g-forces experienced by combat pilots; in fact, there is now evidence that the male body is less able to handle the g-forces than the female body: women are less likely to black out due to shorter blood vessel routes in the neck. Furthermore, health issues regarding women are argued as the reason that some submarine services avoid accepting women, although mixed-gender accommodations in a small space is also an issue, as is explained in more depth below. The traditionalist Center for Military Readiness stated that "Female soldiers [are], on average, shorter and smaller than men, with 45-50% less upper body strength and 25-30% less aerobic capacity, which is essential for endurance".
However, an article in the Army Times July 29, 1996, states that some women do possess the physical attributes suitable to become combat soldiers.