Integrating women into combat roles in the US military is nothing new and has long been debated for many years and while some combat related roles are open to women, it’s the infantry role that is at issue, the very role SECDEF Ash Carter just opened up to all women in the US military starting in January 2016. Despite his decision, the debate rages on unabated on both sides of the issue with one commonality: standards. The standards that must be met unequivocally by men and women alike in combat roles in the US military.
“Task, conditions, and standards” – three words I heard a lot of during my tenure in the US Army and it’s that last word, “standards,” that encompasses several different meanings depending on the task and conditions at hand. Integrating women into combat roles is no different and it’s the “standard” that must be met & never lowered. It’s that very “standard” that dictates why women do not belong in combat roles in the US military.
One popular argument I encounter regarding the standards of women in combat roles is the reference to the number of foreign countries who have women serving in a combat capacity role as a means to justify why the US should do the same. The data in the CNN article shows a small percentage of women who serve in a combat capacity in their respective countries, but it’s what the article isn’t showing that concerns me. That concern being the percentage of women who were cycled out due to attrition because they failed to meet the standards. Women as a whole cannot sustain the high demands of physical training that the combat roles demand without risk of injury or disability, especially in the combat arms training requirements of the US military.
A study on the gender differences of military women and men regarding injuries and their respective outcomes was done and clearly illustrates that we are much more prone to to injury/disability than our male counterparts. “Army women are more likely to be disabled than men and are approximately 67% more likely than Army men to receive a physical disability discharge for a musculoskeletal disorder.” Two items of note in this study are pelvic and lower back problems women in the military can expect to have. One example is the amount of physical demand placed on a woman to meet the standard of a 12 mile road march to be completed in three hours or less with a ruck sack at 35lbs. That is the minimal standard, a standard that is set across the board for men and women alike who are not combat arms. If the woman is in a combat arms MOS, injuries to the pelvis and lower back will suddenly onset, thus hurting readiness.
Physical demands aside, another aspect regarding women in combat roles the role psychology plays. A woman completes her basic infantry course training and is assigned to an infantry unit, a male dominated environment. Whilst the female is expected to assimilate to her male counterparts, that’s not always the case. She WILL have a separate latrine, shower facilities, and sleeping quarters; that’s just the top of the ice berg and stating the obvious. Issues such as sexual harassment, real or perceived, hurts readiness for both men and women. The issue of pregnancy to avoid deployments hurts readiness. Issues of injuries occurring in women more than men hurts readiness. All of which have a detrimental effect on the unit as a whole to be battle ready in a combat capacity.
Being battle ready in a combat capacity means the US military combat units must demand that the “task, conditions, and standards” be equal across the board, even more so in the elite ranks of specialized combat teams (Special Operation Forces). A year-long study by the USMC on this very issue illustrates the stark contrasts between men and women in a combat capacity. If the “task, conditions, and standards” change in combat roles to accommodate women in combat roles, can we state unequivocally that readiness will not be affected? Because having to choose between waiting for a female squad member to catch up to her squad versus saving another squad member’s life in combat is a very real possibility in this global war on terror. Turning our military into a social experiment to placate politicians and the feminist block will result in outcomes no one wants, with the worst outcome being loss of life; this social experiment is destined to fail.
Theresa Giarratano is a retired US Army NCO studying Middle Eastern affairs with special emphasis on global terrorism. Her current status is assisting the Kurdish people by disseminating information regarding the fight against ISIS via social media platforms.