January 27, 2011

Mommy Wore Combat Boots

Oh, the dreaded "Women in Combat" discussion.

Yup, I'm going there.

Pretty much everywhere you see this discussion posted, it's presented as, "Should Women Be Allowed in Combat?" To which every pouncer replies, "Uh YA woman r alredy in combat nd they kick *ss so lets give em there RESPECT and let em join the BOYS!" (For example.)

This is why, whenever you begin discussing a controversial topic like this, it's important to define your terms. The issue here isn't whether women should be "allowed" in combat. Obviously, females in non-combat MOSs still wind up in combat in theater, and they perform their duty admirably. In fact, if you recall I reviewed a movie based on actual Army Nurse Corps records from WWII. What those women went through I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Even before the 20th century, women having been serving on the battlefield. In high school, I did a research paper about how, during the War Between the States, women would chop their hair, strap themselves down, and pretend to be men so they could enlist and fight. And if anyone wants to bring up a Mulan reference here, feel free to do so. There's no question about the bravery of women, their capacity for heroism or their patriotism. That's not what this is about.

The question is not, "Should Women Be In Combat?" The question is whether or not it is both cost effective and combat effective to restructure the training and function of our current combat arms divisions to accommodate the relatively small number of women who would actively seek out a combat arms branch service.

Whew. That's a mouthful, but it's the only honest way to frame the discussion. In the interest of keeping this from turning into a novel, this is going to be very streamlined. If I sound like I'm oversimplifying, it's not intentional. I'm just trying to say in 1 paragraph what really deserves to be said in 4. Bear with me, people.

When I think of the combat soldier, I think of one of my favorite quotes: "Safe? Of course he's not safe. After all, he's not a tame lion. But he's good."

First of all, let's dispense with the whole "women can do just as much as men can." In many ways, that's true. A woman can learn to shoot a gun, drive a tank or write an Op Order every bit as well as a man can. But the military learned a long time ago that it was unrealistic to expect the same physically from women that they do from men. That's why males and females have different PT scales. And when we are talking about combat arms branches, we are talking about (mostly) very physical training and careers. That's important to keep in mind.

Consider the cost aspect. I know, cost effectiveness isn't typically in the military's rubric when it comes to making major decisions. Or at least it seems that way sometimes. (And then there are other times where we'll just let the housing degrade until there are holes in the walls because we "can't afford" to update or build new housing. I don't try to understand the military's concept of "money management." I just accept it and move on.) But it's still important to the discussion.

Now, granted, my experience in combat arms branches is limited to the Army Infantry. So I'm not trying to slight other branches by using that as my example, okay? I'm just going with what I know.

Between OSUT, IBOLC and Ranger School, such significant changes would have to be made as to garrisoning and training schedule that it would completely change the face of the training. Not to mention incorporating dual male and female qualification standards. After all, men and women have different PT requirements in the regular military, even at West Point. I'd like to know how they would be able to adjust Ranger School to accommodate females, in everything from physical qualifications to garrisoning.

Someone made a comparison to the Air Force allowing women to be fighter pilots, saying that it was time for the rest of the military to "catch up" and give women "equal" combat roles to the Air Force. I really hope I don't need to outline the differences between Light Infantry in the Army or Marines and fighter pilots in the Air Force. The comparison is not an equal one.

What about combat effectiveness? This is really where the focus of the discussion takes place. Every change will either increase or decrease our military's combat effectiveness. No changes should be made to broad military policy unless it increases combat effectiveness. That should be obvious, but apparently it's not.

Would adding women to combat arms branches increase combat effectiveness? Luckily, we don't have to guess at this one. We can look to historical precedent to find the answer.

Israel is the most obvious modern example to look towards, since they are the most famous for having women in their military. One of the most well-known "facts" about the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) is that women and men serve together equally on the front lines.

As it turns out, that's a "fact" that isn't actually true. At one point, the IDF did put women in front-line combat units, and the results were not good. It turned out that male soldiers were actually affected negatively by the addition of women, and not just in the ways you would expect. Obviously, having men and women working together in close quarters, in the field, for extended periods of time lends itself to compromising situations. There's no point pretending that wouldn't be a factor (as many advocates do). But there was more to it than that.
This is NOT what happens when women are put on the front lines in combat units. Typically, the reverse was the case.

Male IDF members were more likely to protect their female partners at their own risk, and at the risk of the mission, because they were instinctively protective of them. It's not that the females were hiding behind the males in combat; quite the contrary. The males would literally jump in front of the females when they thought they were in danger. The reason for this was two-fold: one is basic biology - men are hard-wired to protective of women; it's the warped ones that aren't. And instinctively, we know that. We expect it unless and until we are conditioned not to. I'll get to the other reason in a second.

There are also records showing that male IDF members showed more frequent and significant occurrences of negative psychological effects from seeing female members wounded or killed than they did from fellow male members. PTSD and battle fatigue were higher for male members in units with females due to the increased trauma of seeing females in harm's way.

Finally, consider our enemy. We are fighting against members of an ideology that perform honor killings and female circumcision on their own women. If they ever "allow" their own women in combat, it's to use them as human shields or suicide bombers. And if that's how they treat their own women, imagine how they would treat any females they captured as POWs.

This is why IDF members were willing to risk themselves and the mission to prevent a female soldier from being captured, injured or killed. The effects on the rest of the men were so terribly negative, they instinctively did whatever they could to avoid it. I have no reason to believe the same would not be true of our own servicemen, and it would mean putting the rest of the servicemen in greater danger as well as risking the effectiveness of the mission.

In fact, I have every reason to believe such incidences would be HIGHER among the US military because, by and large, the men who join the military come from more traditional backgrounds where they are raised to respect and protect women. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but the vast majority would fall into this category.

Imagine, should the enemy capture a squad with a woman in it, what they would do to the woman to make the men in the squad more compliant. Because that's what they did. They didn't torture the men for information. They tortured and raped the women in front of their male fellow soldiers to get the men to talk.

It's not a sign of respect for women to put women in situations where this is a possibility. It's a lack of respect for women that makes us think this is either equitable treatment or acceptable policy in a modern nation.

It's obvious, then, that the negative impact on combat effectiveness and morale would not be made up for by the simple do-gooder fact of having women in our combat arms branches. That should be our main deciding factor, too. Not whether or not it's good PR, not whether or not women are "owed" anything (and who says they are? and by whom?), but whether it's in the best interest of the US Armed Forces. And based on all the available evidence, my conclusion is, no, it's not. We don't gain anything by adding women to our combat arms branches, and we stand to lose a lot.


  1. As usual, I agree with you 100%.

    There is no doubt in my mind that any man would spill all the intelligence he knows to save a woman from being raped. None whatsoever. I know my husband would. I can't imagine what our enemies would do to female soldiers if they were captured. They do horrible things to their OWN women. I don't even want to think about it.

    I think it is complete CRAP that these feminists think they're doing all females a great justice by trying to make us complete equals with men. I think they're doing us a great injustice and killing chivalry along with it. I could care less if someone thinks I'm less than a man. I can't do the same things my husband can, and I'm ok with that. God created men and women to do different things in this world.

  2. Love this, JG! You always say what I'm trying to say...just in much better words!!

  3. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    That's all. Nice job, as always.

  4. One, read "We Band of Angels" if you liked that movie. I haven't seen the movie, but the book is the story about the nurses on the Bataan. It is amazing. The strength of these women told through research and personal accounts is probably much better than any movie. I couldn't put the book down.

    Two, despite different regulations for PT throughout the military, if women are to serve in combat, I think the whole part of equality should be getting through ranger school and other training with the same expectations as the males. How are women supposed to do well in the SAME situations as males if they can't even pass the same tests? I hate this whole "equality" thing when people want different rules to obtain "equality." If you don't want equality, you a different word to describe what you want.

    Three, I agree that males will protect a female. They are hardwired to do so. I have no doubts that the enemy will rape a female POW, but if that's the case, we should be worrying about that now with female not in "direct" combat but those female soldiers right behind them. I realize that it is small number, but still could happen now so I am not really sure if it pertains to the argument if someone is to fire back at ya.

    I am still not completely sure how I feel about this. I am sure the same things were said back in the day when they didn't want blacks serving alongside whites. I think the evidence showing the PTSD for males after seeing a wounded female and the natural instinct of males is the best evidence I have heard presented against it!

  5. I have a problem with there being different PT scales for men and women. I think if a woman (or a man for that matter) wants to be a soldier, they should all be held to the same standard.

    My mother in law was a soldier before there was ever a PT scale for women. She did it on the male scale.. why is it necessary now?

    I personally know several current female soldiers that would have no trouble passing PT tests on the male scale.

    I'm still not sure what I think about this whole "females in combat" debate.. I definitely think it's stupid to compromise military standards to make everyone "equal" as shown above. I guess I think that women should only be allowed if they can physically and mentally do all the things a male soldier can. Anything short of that, and I say no.. go find a different job with standards you ARE able to uphold.

  6. Having a husband that serves in the infantry and knowing the physicality of it we just have to accept that most woman (I use the term woman) would not be able to keep up. Yes there will be a small and I mean very small fraction of woman that can but it's not realistic. As much as we would like to blend our sexes together into on entity there are just physical difference. Not even all men can maintain the standard for a Combat infantrymen in the Marine Corps. We are different, men are stronger..for the most part. If you ever look at a formation run or hike in a non combat element battalion the woman most often are in the back. Once we accept that men and woman are different period this argument losses its weight. What annoys me is the standard, "woman are already in combat" line....I say ...if that is so then why do we have to change anything.
    My two cents

  7. THANK. YOU.

    And can I add...I know this is totally selfish and no one ever says it, but damn it, I have to put it out there.

    I don't CARE if some chick thinks she deserves the right to be in combat- if my husband falls and the person standing next to him is a girl who wouldn't be able to pull him to safety, I DON'T CARE about her claim to women's rights. If women's rights = my husband coming home in a body bag, my staunch feminism goes right out the door.

    I know that was blunt, but it makes me so mad to see the women of his unit get breast implants that make them unable to put on their Kevlar and get out of duty because they just painted their nails.

    It sounds so cliche, but those are legit examples. Ugh.

  8. I agree with everything you say except the PT thing. Having been around Crossfit for the past two years and also women who are competitive weightlifters I know for a fact that there are women out there that can lift, carry, throw and run faster than a majority of the men I know. There is a problem with both sides of the PT test ( male and female) in that it doesn't make sense because its not functional to what soldiers do already. "Oh hold on before you shoot let me drop and do some pushups!" The PT test should be one single test for EVERYONE and the training should reflect actual functional training preparation. (Lift, carry, shoot, drag, pull, climb, run) A guy that can max out on the PT test can barely pick up twice his body weight but can run a 4 min. mile? That seems ridiculous.
    It's just as easy to say they shouldn't let fat people into the military because they are the one's causing us to lower our standards.

  9. Obviously there will be a small percentage, a very small percentage of woman that can carry an 80-100 pound pack. I consider myself a pretty strong woman but I can tell you that carrying that kind of weight isn't typical of 99% of woman. My husband spends weeks, months in remote areas, defecating and urinating in bags..I can see how that alone will be a problem. This is not a nice business. Woman are different in a serious physiological way then men. Again, we are having activist that have NO intention of ever putting on the uniform making decisions that effect our armed services in very detrimental ways. I wish they would just stop and think about how we do not live in a fantasy world were all the sexes co-exist in equal harmony. We are not equal period.

  10. Oh and by the way, we do not let fat people in the Marine Corps or allow them to stay in when they are. So I can not speak for the Army since I am a Marine wife but I would risk to say they don't either..so you see we do discriminate, can "some" fat people run and keep up with those that are physically more fit...maybe but a very small percentage

  11. As usual, I agree with you and appreciate that you back up every point to your argument!

  12. Hey Stef, thanks for your comment. I would have replied to you privately but apparently your reply-to email isn't set.

    I appreciate your perspective, but if you'll forgive me for saying so, I think you're using the exception to prove the rule. Competitive bodybuilders and female CFers don't exactly make up a majority of the American female population. Then consider how many of those women would choose to join a combat arms branch of the military, and that number becomes even smaller.

    And actually, buddy carrying IS a part of PT for combat soldiers, as is endurance marching with nearly 100lbs on their backs. I don't think you're describing either the typical female soldier or the typical combat soldier.

  13. I'm reading a book right now and the woman is active army, has a son and then goes to Iraq as an emt.

  14. People also miss the point about hygiene. Women require more hygiene. That's just a fact. Sure, she can ruin her reproductive abilities by shooting herself up with major doses of synthetic hormones to try to stop her period, but what woman would want to do that for months on end (and for some, it's against their religion to be taking birth control)

    Great post. You've nailed all the reasons I give when defending my "no" position on why I don't think women should be in combat arms. I'm prior service and I don't think many of these feminists screeching for equality truly understand what being in the military entails.

    it's already been said but I'm another spouse that would not be happy if my husband came home in a body bag because his "battle buddy" couldn't drag him to safety.

  15. Yeah. You're spot on. Once again.

  16. While I realize that there are some amazing female Soldiers, I have to say.. from the bottom of my honest heart, (I agree with C here) that if my husband is on the front line and is injured I do NOT want a female to be the one to try to get him to safety. My husband is over 6 feet tall and weighs over 200 lbs. There is not a woman I know, in the Army or out, that can even drag him to help.
    Women have many places in the military, in combat ain't one of them.

  17. I'm a little late to the party, but I also have to agree with you. I was just telling my husband about your excellent point that men are hardwired to protect women, and how that was evidenced by the responses of men in the IDF. He reminded ME that I told him once about my days in geology field camp. Not only were we women protected in the field by the guys, who always watched out for us in the Black Hills, including and not limited to putting out hands to help us down rough spots on the hills, but also after hours. There wasn't a man around who could approach us in a bar, restaurant, etc. Not that any of our fellow students would ask us out, but no one else was going to get the chance, either! It was not funny at the time, but it is now.


I was nice and didn't turn on word verifications. Please reciprocate by having your reply-to email set and not posting anonymously.