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.