Right now in the middle of a war-zone there is a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army Infantry, he is most likely doing work that one might consider extremely hazardous, and chances are he'll get shot at at least once today. In Fort Drum New York, there is a Staff Sergeant whose sole job in the army is the ensure that a training area is functional, he will most likely do some paperwork, then go to sleep in his own bed after close of business. Those two individuals despite wildly different jobs get the same base pay. The only difference in pay would be hostile fire pay which is a whopping $225 a month (at leas that's what it was when I was in). They get the same BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing), BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsidies) and get access to the same medical dental and housing benefits. In fact the guy whose in the rear may actually have more opportunity for early advancement than the infantryman that's been deployed 3 or four times.
Which is one of the many reasons why opening the doors to women in Combat Arms doesn't really make any sense. If it were truly about opportunity, you would think that they would offer women careers with MORE opportunity for career development, or possible follow on civilian careers not less. If the move really was about equality don't you think we'd want to open a job that actually has a civilian equivalent? Maybe a Medic, or Police Officer, or a Dentist? But those jobs are already open to women. Indeed pretty much every job that you can actually translate to the civilian world is open to women, so WHY the Combat Arms?
Well it's said that promotion is faster in Combat Arms, specifically the Infantry. This is true, to a point. In the officer ranks you're usually going to move to O-3 (Captain) in roughly 5 years, which is quite speedy, however there the rapid career progression abruptly stops, and from O-4 (Major) on, the competition is so fierce it is often a marvel that officers aren't regularly trying to off one another so they get the desired posting and best OERs (Officer Evaluation Reviews) If your OERs don't make you look like you walk on water, it's a death knell in you career. Even an OER that says you did your job and did it well is not enough to get you promoted. You have to shine, and keep shining, all the way to the day you decide to take off your uniform. There is also one slight detail they never tell you about leadership in the military; at any point an 18-24 year old nowhere near you can screw up, and torpedo your career.
For a lot of good reasons, the Infantry go to the field a lot. Going to the field looks good on the OER. It looks good that you're training, and units will often face "graded" FTX's (Field Training Exercises), much like a giant practical exam. This matters to much that some commanders, if they could get away with it, would just deploy their unit to training areas and leave them there. But that is just the tip of the iceberg with Combat Arms, because there is one, obvious, but painful secret to Combat Arms, at some point, even if you do everything correctly, you will have to order someone to their death. A leader's job in the military is not to kill the enemy, but rather to manuver the troops to the correct position so that they can kill the enemy. To do that you will have to knowingly trip ambushes, send patrols into areas you know the enemy is strong, sometimes even make the call to deny MEDEVAC because the situation is too hot.
There's another thing that you never see in a Hollywood movie about combat, there is no privacy. None. In the sleeping areas of COP Kamalayah it would not be uncommon to see a man strip naked, preform minor personal hygiene (in this case just run a baby wipe over certain areas) then put on a new set of underwear, and a new t-shirt. Spartan conditions wouldn't be adequate to describe living on the front lines, and there are front lines, despite what the news might tell you. The Forward Operating Base is usually pretty secure, and despite constant attacks you're not likely to be injured or die in such attacks. At a COP, its another story. There's no bunkers, aside from the ones designed to shoot back out of. These small outposts are usually no bigger than one or two buildings, and as the attacks on COP Keating or COP Restrepo show, VERY vulnerable.
It must also be pointed out that the statement "women have been in combat . . ." is extremely misleading. Yes women have been shot at, and returned fire very effectively. They can react to ambushes, and have proven that they can man turrets, and kill the enemy if attacked. that is quite a different thing than going out and actively LOOKING for the enemy. The Infantry's main job is to find the enemy, wherever they maybe, engage them, often in ranges less than 50 meters, and kill them. This means going away from where the "safe" FOB, or COP is and walking, running and sometimes repelling to where the enemy is. To anyone not familiar with this, to describe this as a Herculean effort would not be an unfair assessment.
I doubt any of this will be made evident to the American people until many years and perhaps another war after implementation. Even so, as with all assessments about warfare, one must always look at the facts and approach any decision with he utmost care. Combat is not some hypothetical thought experiment, but the very real consequence of national politics. There is no politician in the world that can shape combat into some pristine sporting event, its a very brutal test of individual, and unit mettle, resolve, skill, and sheer luck. Failure of anyone of a number of minute factors mean the difference between going home with an interesting story, an interesting scar or in a body bag.