By: Peter Sessum
Don’t ever put the words “women” and “can’t” in the same sentence around my mother unless you want to start a fight. So I do not make this argument lightly. I have no doubt that someday women will be fully integrated in all military jobs, but the way the Marine Corps is going about it isn’t the way to make that happen.
The decision to put women in Infantry officer training is a political one; it is not done for the advancement of women. The Marines plan does not dispel the arguments against women in combat arms, it does not let women properly prove themselves and does not let the culture call for the change.
Arguments against women in combat
The main argument against women in the Infantry is physical prowess. Infantrymen have to be able to carry heavy weight a long way. Most opponents also question how many women could drag a 200 pound injured man to safety. Grunts have to be able to carry up to 100 pounds for 20 miles. If a fellow soldier is injured, one soldier needs to be able to pick up that soldier and get him to safety. When I would train for this scenario, we were not allowed to drop our packs to carry the “injured” man.
With the Marine Corps looking at a “gender neutral” physical fitness test, they are not addressing the arguments against women in the Infantry. The perception is that the standards will be lowered to allow for women in the Infantry. Regardless of intent, the Marines need to fight that perception.
Letting women prove they have the right to fight
There are tough women in the military and women in the Marines are famously hardcore. If the standards are not changed a woman could prove that she belongs in the Infantry. Respect is earned, not given. A woman that can ruck the same weight, the same distance has a better chance of earning the respect of her peers. And yes, as the first women in the infantry, they will have to work twice as hard to prove they are half as good.
Putting the new female Infantry officers in training positions will not give them the opportunity to prove themselves. They will not be able to prove that they can lead in a training battalion. It is like making a secretary a nonvoting member of the board of directors and claiming that you have women running the company. When that first female Infantry lieutenant becomes promoted to a company command, what do you think her battle hardened troops are going to think of her? As an Infantry officer with no combat experience, she will not be competitive for promotion against males with combat experience.
Culture change can’t be forced
I have heard people compare integrating women in the Infantry to integrating blacks into the military in WWII. This really is an apples and oranges argument. The culture was vastly different in the 1940s. The physical argument is immediately dispelled when you compare men to other men. This situation has more in common with allowing gays to serve in the military.
The process from Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) to the current policy took much longer than it needed to, but the important thing is that it was a process. Gays and lesbians were able to prove themselves and it allowed for the military culture to come around to the idea of gays openly serving. In case you haven’t noticed, gays have been serving in the military and the world hasn’t ended.
As a political move, if there is initial resistance to the change, it will be forced. No one is going to back down once the ball gets rolling. Currently, in war, there are no more front lines. There are examples of women proving themselves in combat situations. Instead of jumping to the end, if we took one more step towards women in combat arms, the culture would come around to accepting women in the Infantry.
There is a solution to getting women into more combat roles. I say more because women are already in some combat roles. The media likes to say that women are limited to noncombat jobs like logistics and quartermaster. That isn’t exactly true. Women are fighter pilots. There are also female Military Police officers. I knew a female air defense artillery officer. I also know a female Army aviation officer. Last I heard, she was commander of an aviation battalion. She flew Apaches, combat attack helicopters.
Women are slowing getting into more combat oriented roles. The next step should be to put females in the cavalry. Sorry to all you DATs, but putting women in tanks would remove the physical arguments. Tankers don’t carry anything, they ride in tanks everywhere. Train a couple females to be tanker officers and let them lead tank platoons overseas.
There is one more big step that can be done. Without changing the standard, have a trial cycle of sniper school. Women in the military have proven that they can excel at technical jobs. Few things are more technical than being a sniper. While men are accepted as being generally stronger and faster than women, females are more patient. If athletic volunteers are found, I think they would do well in sniper school. During the stalk test, most men fail for rushing. I would be interested in seeing how well women would do.
Female sniper teams would be perceived as kickass by deployed men. Have them take out some long range targets and they will earn respect of grunts. There are some people that say women will not be able to kill. History disagrees. The most successful sniper in history is a Russian female. She has the most confirmed kills on record. While you can argue that some men might have more unconfirmed kills, confirmed is what counts. Not that it matters, the point is made, women can pull the trigger.
I have served alongside women in the military, and there are women I would trust with my life without question. I know that someday, women will be fully integrated in the military. The question is should it be done right or done right now? By addressing the arguments against women in combat and giving them a chance to prove themselves the military culture will come around and grunts will accept females into their ranks. If they really wanted to advance women into more combat roles, they would do it smarter. Instead, someone is just trying to advance their own agenda and that isn’t doing women any favors.
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There’s a similar thing going on in the submarine fleet in the Navy. However, I’m apprehensive about integration. Allow me to explain.
There is no job on board a submarine that a woman could not do. Not a single one. Even some of the heavy lifting jobs can’t be done by some men on board, so it wouldn’t be that much of an issue adding (typically) weaker people to the crew. There may be more pairing up on jobs to get some things done, but there’s already pairing up on jobs, so that’s not an issue. Women are physically and intellectually capable if doing every job on board a submarine, so why not integrate? Hell, since they tend to be shorter than men, wouldn’t they even be preferable in this environment? I’ve seen a couple of guys way too tall to be living on a sub before…
A common argument is berthing and privacy, and it’s one that I really don’t put much stock in. Having talked to a few guys in the Army, they’ve told me that in the field, privacy isn’t really something that anyone has time to worry about. There aren’t often opportunities to adequately separate the males from the the females, and ideally, due to situational awareness, no one really makes a big deal about it. Similarly, submarines aren’t built, yet, to accommodate separation between men and women. In fact, when we’ve had females riding the boat, for whatever reason, one of the precious few heads (bathrooms) was reserved for them, and the one one room on the boat that they could sleep separately, 9-man berthing, was solely occupied by them, even if there were less than 9 women, thus forcing more people in other berthing spaces to share bunks. However, with integration, this isn’t really an issue. Permanent roping off of heads and berthing spaces isn’t practical for deployments. They’ll get used to the loss of privacy. We all do. And the men will get used to the proximity of women, I hope.
My concern is largely one of professionalism. Being a submariner is largely boring and monotonous. You will get bored, guaranteed. Watches go by slooooowly, and when you’re not standing watch somewhere where you’re constantly in the vicinity of the Captain, you’re going to screw around. Make jokes, tell stories, generally find ways to not go insane from the monotony. Also, it should be remembered that it is an entirely male service, and when you let men be alone with nothing but men all the time, there’s a certain culture that arises. Now, I could be complaining about losing one of the last bastions of men’s clubs by letting girls in, and hell, maybe that’s what I’m rationalizing, but I’m going to continue on as if that’s not my problem.
What should be also remembered is that, at any one time, about half of my division on the boat was either not old enough to drink, or being old enough to drink within the last few years. I think that this could be said about most divisions on the boat, which would put half, give or take, at college age. Now, we’re expected, as members of the military, to be a bit more mature than your average frat boy, but let’s be honest here. We’re just a different kind of frat. Men at that age, no matter the profession, aren’t exactly known for their maturity and professionalism. And we’re trapped in an enclosed, pressurized, boredom generator.
So, what you’re probably seeing me narrow my argument down to is the inevitable argument about the influx of sexual harassment, be it real or not. The women, I’m not terribly concerned about. However, adding women into the mix in a pressurized tube with a bunch of frat boys for months at a time just seems like asking for trouble. Yes, yes, there will be training on sexual harassment, but it won’t stick. There will be some people that go to NJP, but no one will learn. They’re young guys, still largely controlled by their hormones, and there will be trouble. And without a situation like perpetually possibly imminent life-threatening situations like in the infantry, when you’re living in a static world that provokes levels of shenaniganry that I have never seen, nor will ever see again, there will be fire.
Also, don’t take away our boys’ club.
I really liked the way that you wrote this mainly because of the fact that you did not take the typical “women do not belong in infantry” stance that most men have take. You acknowledged that you do not agree 100% with the way that the Marines are going about it but you brought up a lot of very interesting points as far as other alternatives to the issue. Thank you for posting.
men are much stronger than women from an emotional stand point and strength.They will not be able to compete with men on any level.what if a tank loses a track.they want have the strength to repair it.the military is not a social experiment. they will.learn th hard way.As a formal infantry officer i just dont understand why men can’,t be men and women be women.I think most women are opposed to front line combat anyway. the israelis experimented with this same issue.It did’nt work..they are working against nature Only the strong survive.Does anybody understand how much a ruck, load bearing equipment and weapons weigh.facts speak for themselves..What an ass these politicians are…………………Especially Robert Gates.,Robert Panetta
I have now deployed twice to afghanistan in the Marines. Female Marines, even the FET team have NO IDEA what it’s like to be an infantry marine. Let me sum it up;
You have 2 tents, and nobody has enough room, with no air conditioning.
You shower if possible once a week and in a makeshift shower using water bottles.
You get around 2 hours of sleep a day, give or take 2 hours.
You daily patrol at minimum 5 kilometers with your kevlar helmet, your 30 lb flack, your 50 lb pack and your rifle and ammunition, plus any other gear your Squad leader needs; Thor(20 lbs) 117G(10 lbs) Wolfhound (15 lbs), throw in a 240 and it’s ammo along with that.
You have restrooms made of hesco, if possible, or you just take a dump in the sand a walk away from your vehicle.
There is no internet access. (I’ve had a FET member ask me were the MWR was at my PB)
The sat phone is usually broken.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PRIVACY
All of this for 7 months strait.
And lastly, there is NO true test you can possibly create where you can evaluate if someone can indure a deployment, it’s quite frankly impossible.
a simple google search will tell you that Simo “Simuna” Häyhä has the highest number of confirmed kills, and that was in 2 months! the only source we have for women snipers are the soviet union and they for obvious reasons are very suspect for reliability. On top of that You have obliviously no idea what snipers have to go through look at Carlos Hathcock, he had to piss his pants and stay effectively still for days in order to avoid capture, what happens when a women has her periods and the scent of the blood blows her positon? And if she is captured, enemy snipers do not have good POW prospects compound this with her being a woman. Yeah think Jessica Lynch to the Nth degree. Until America is okay with women dying en masse in the movie theater we will not accept them in high risk roles.