Women to Serve In Combat Units

Today, acting on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that he is lifting the ban, in place since 1994, on women serving in combat roles in the United States military. One has to wonder how much longer this would have taken had we not had the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the reality on the ground—that women have been fighting and dying alongside their male colleagues for the last decade—made this almost inevitable. What changes now is that women can serve in units like infantry that are designated as combat units.

I'm sure some conservatives are going to start hemming and hawing about how the lack of upper body strength among your average lady-type means this will accelerate the wussification of the U.S. military, and how it was just inevitable under Barack Obama's plan to destroy America. No doubt we'll hear that from Rush Limbaugh, who probably couldn't do a push-up if there was a capital gains tax cut waiting at the top of it.

When it comes to the physical differences between men and women, this doesn't seem like it ought to be an issue. Yes, on average men are bigger and stronger than women. But the military shouldn't accept average people, or if it does it ought to whip them into shape until they're above average, because right now the average American consumes four Big Gulps a day to wash down his six Taco Supremes. As it happens, the services have slightly different fitness standards for men and women (not radically different, but women have to do a few fewer push-ups, have a bit more time to complete a 1.5-mile run, etc.). Although I confess I don't know much about how the standards were developed, on their face I think it's kind of silly. Presumably the fitness standards exist because they have some kind of relationship to what a person might be called on to do in a combat situation. You'll need to pull yourself up over obstacles, or run from one place to another, and that will be the same for men and women.

So they ought to just make them the same for both genders. Equalizing the standards would mean that the women who make it will be drawn from a slightly smaller part of the female bell curve of physical capability than the men who do, but that's OK—they'll just be a more select group. Girls' participation in sports has increased in recent years, so I'm sure there are plenty more women who could meet those standards if they wanted to than there were a couple of decades ago, and nobody but the most troglodytic congressman thinks that women are constitutionally incapable of running around shooting people and blowing things up. Nevertheless, even after they open them up to both genders men are probably going to outnumber women for some time in the real elite units like Army Rangers and Navy SEALs. Which is also probably OK; change will come there too.

My guess is that the protestation that greets this move will be minimal and half-hearted. The same people who are likely to object already lost the argument about gays in the military, after all their talk about "unit cohesion" was exposed as nothing more than ridiculous fear and prejudice. So they probably know that having gone through that debate, they aren't going to win this one either.

Comments

And yet, the whole idea is really stupid. How many concessions do we have to make for tomboys who want to play with the men they hate?

First I am a conservative, in a manner of speaking. I would actually be better described as a Constitutionalist. And I don't think every woman should be automatically eligible to serve in combat strictly as a matter of policy.

There are minimum requirements for different billets for a reason. Each person should be considered on an individual basis, dependent upon his or her ability to meet the same standards as everyone else. They should not be lowered to allow certain people to gain entry to specific jobs in the military.

If a woman wants to go through selection to become, say, an Army Ranger, she should have to meet the same physical standards as the men vying for the same slot. If she can't meet the requirements, she will be disqualified just like a man would. There should be no exceptions for anyone. Qualify, or work harder until you do, or find something else you want to be.

People going into combat rely heavily on the people around them to do the job. That means not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. There are many women that would qualify, but some won't. Just as some men aren't physically, mentally or emotionally qualified for certain billets.

I served for 18 years as a military aviator. I was required to perform at the same level as the men if I wanted to get into the program. I was expected to perform at the same level through flight school, post grad flight training and at every step of the way through out my career. I wouldn't have had it any other way. It about personal commitment and personal pride.

The bottom line was always how much did I want it and how hard was I willing to work to attain my goals. Did I have to work harder than the male members of my classes at times. You bet I did, a lot harder at times.

But if I weren't willing to put forth the extra effort and commitment where required, then I didn't deserve to be there. Anymore than a man who wasn't willing to do whatever was required of him to reach the same goal.

So let's stop the blanket social engineering and truly treat woman as equals. And that means not lowering standards one iota or making exceptions for women, or for anyone else. If you can't cut it in selection and training, you sure won't be able to cut it in combat. And when you can't, people die, no matter what gender you are.

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