May 29, 2005

Women In Combat

Next week, the House and Senate will vote on bills seeking to prohibit women soldiers acting in direct ground combat roles. This is the most controversial aspect of a bill that also seeks to increase the number of Army soldiers and Marines, increase pay grades, and guarantee military health care for members of the Army Reserve and National Guard.

Essentially, this is a clear political move to push the issue of women in combat to the forefront, and if these bills don't pass, the Democrats will be whooping and hollering at the audacity of Republicans to deny uniformed personnel pay increases and guaranteed health care. Yet I really don't see the major controversy at point here, especially in light of this exerpt from the cited article:

The language would put into law a Pentagon policy from 1994 that prohibits female troops in all four service branches from serving in units below brigade level whose primary mission is direct ground combat ... The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps currently operate under a 10-year-old policy that prohibits women from "direct combat on the ground" but allows the services discretion to open some jobs to women in combat as needed.

These bills would only codify the long-standing practices of our Armed Forces, and secure women from being forced to perform in a job that they simply do not have the physical strength and endurance needed. Of course, very few exceptions to this rule exist, although I doubt that many women soldiers possess the muscle tone and aggressive demeanor of Linda Hamilton's Terminator II character, Sarah Connor.

The current fitness tests used to evaluate combat readiness are scaled according to age and gender. This is self-defeating to the military's goal in predicting a soldier's success in combat. In addition, women on the front lines would disrupt the cohesive units of battle and underemine the esprit de corps though the politics involved with romantic relationships. This doesn't even touch the issues involved with pregnancies, but it suffices to say that the effectiveness of the military lies in the ability for every member to completely trust and respect one another.

Allowing women to compete for all military occupational specialties shouldn't be treated as an equal rights issue, but one of military effectiveness. If the United States is to retain its status as most powerful and capable military power, we need to have the best person in each role, regardless of their gender.

NOTE: Since the Minister of Propaganda has decided to push the proverbial envelope, I'll likely continue this issue at some point Monday afternoonish. It will probably occur over at The Boileryard, as I'm sure that the Goddess of Snark will reclaim her blog in a few short hours.

UPDATE: Kath here. Interesting points to be found in the comments, although I'm inclined to agree with Sadie on this one. We used to have this argument back in high school (at the ALL GIRLS high school I attended) when the military had just started allowing women to serve in support roles and the debate---even then---was about expanding into combat. It was the general consensus that if women wanted to go and serve in an auxilary role, great, but women shouldn't be on the ground in combat. We were concerned that if the women in the service started actively pushing for this, we'd wind up being drafted later on down the line. The reasoning behind our argument against was that there was no way we could carry a seventy-five pound pack whilst running and shooting a gun at the same time. We're just not built for it. While I do not doubt there are some women who are built for it, the majority of us are not. The average height of an American woman is five foot, three inches. While I'm above average at five foot, six inches, I know I can't lift seventy-five pounds even when I'm at my most fit. I just can't do it. The laws of physics do not allow for it.

I simply cannot make any judgments about the esprit de corps arguments that Sadie listed simply because I've never served. While I'm sure there are a lot of men who would simply prefer that the military remain one all-male clubhouse, that this is what works best to ensure a "Band of Brothers" attitude that will keep soldiers alive, I am, however, not so sure that this is the case in actuality. But, like I said, I've never served, nor have I ever polled the family members who have/are serving to see what their opinions on the matter are.

That said, I do have issues with female service members who get pregnant while they're serving. I'm sorry. I'm sure this will rankle a few people, but there it is. If I have to see one more picture of that idiot Lyddie England in a camo-uniform maternity top, I'll gag. That the freakin' Army actually has camoflauge maternity tops, well... take from that what you will. If you want to serve your country in a combat capacity, knowing full well that you might be called away at any moment to serve in a war---in either an auxilary or front line position---you should be using birth control. It's that simple. (And of course this does not count for women who are at desk jobs. Duh. So don't ream me about it.) Men, obviously, cannot become pregnant. Their biology prevents such an outcome. It's irresponsible in the extreme for a woman to ignore their biology and then expect everyone to make allowances for them. You can't have it both ways, even though conventional wisdom---and the law---says you can. Take one for the team you want to be on: get on the pill.

Posted by Sadie at May 29, 2005 04:45 PM

It hurts me to say it, Sadie, but this time you're wrong.

Women are not being forced into combat roles. Military women want to serve in combat roles, because all of the best promotional opportunities go to personnel who have served in combat commands.

The Air Force had the same debate about women as combat fighter pilots when I was still in uniform, and I heard all the same bullshit arguments about 'physical ability' and 'esprit de corps.' On the issue of physical ability, I heard time and time again that women didn't have the upper body strength to handle the g forces of fighter combat, when in fact the science data showed that women's hour-glass body shape makes them naturally more resistant to the incredible pressure of increased g's. All the esprit de corps arguments -- the same arguments that were made against blacks serving with whites, and that are still made against gays in the military -- were really just about male fighter pilots no longer being able to show porn videos in the ready rooms. Women are currently serving as combat fighter pilots in both the Air Force and the Navy, and everybody is just fine.

If your actual issue is how fitness tests are scaled, then we should be talking about fitness tests. But only someone who had never served could think that military fitness tests are used to evaluate combat readiness. I was a combat camera officer, and I was considered 'combat ready' when my weapons training, chemical warfare training, and shot records were up to date for worldwide deployment. Oh yeah, they also confirmed that I'd completed a recent will. I stayed physically fit because it might mean my ass, but they didn't check my pt scores before they told me to get on a plane.

If women want to avoid combat, they should be allowed to opt out of ground combat roles on a case-by-case basis. But prohibiting women from serving in any role where they're qualified to serve is sexist and self-defeating. I served with a lot of female officers and enlisted that were just as or more qualified to serve in combat roles than their male counterparts. The fact that Congress is getting involved at all is just more bullshit conservative politics driven by bullshit conservative politicians, staged entirely for the good ol' folks at home and competely independent of any actual understanding of military needs. To quote your own post, ...we need to have the best person in each role, regardless of their gender.

By the way, Sadie, a good political discussion is just another method of flirting for me: ask Smallholder about 'Mutual Enhancement Theory.'

Posted by: The Minister of Propaganda at May 29, 2005 07:51 PM

Ah yes, but if women could serve in combat roles, it would be constitutional to draft women as such.

'Tis a slippery slope, Mister Propaganda.

Posted by: sadie at May 29, 2005 08:03 PM

If you want to prevent women from being drafted in combat roles, then you pass a law that says women cannot be drafted in combat roles. Since the law currently governing selective service doesn't apply to women, you'd have to pass a law anyway to start drafting women in the first place. If it's the individual women you're concerned about, then you pass a law that says women in the military can opt out of combat roles. There's no military reason, plain and simple, to pass this law.

Women in the military who want to serve in combat roles should be allowed to serve in combat roles. It's the right thing to do and, even if some people in the military disagree, it's better for the military in the long run.

Finally, concerning your brief reply, unless you're proposing a constitutional amendment, none of this has anything to do with the constitutionality of women in combat, drafted or otherwise: with or without the passage of this specific bill, with or without the wording sponsored by southern Republican congressmen, it's still constitutional to draft women in combat roles. C'mon, Sadie, you're the lawyer -- I just play one on tv.

Posted by: The Minister of Propaganda at May 30, 2005 12:01 AM

I hate to say it Sadie, but I gotta agree with The Minister. It's easy to keep women from being drafted, but in these times we can't afford to be pulling women out of combat roles that they're already in. They ARE in them, after all, despite the paperwork.

It's been a while since I was in--eight years--but the people wearing the boots didn't have a big problem with women in combat roles, even during Gulf War I. I never served in combat, but I find it hard to believe that the presence of women in a situation like that would really be detrimental; people are concerned with their lives more than anything.

I say if a woman is qualified at the SAME level as men (NOT on different standards--you're right, that's bullshit), then she ought to be there.

Anyway, if this simply keeps existing policy in place, then whatever. The women are there anyway.

Posted by: Beth at May 30, 2005 02:58 AM

God bless the women who want to serve in ground combat missions, however that doesn't mean that they are fit for it...just as every man who wants to serve in that capacity isn't fit for either.
There is a difference in the physical tests men and women are under while in the military. Although, those tests might be low on the scale to determine "combat readiness" they are a factor for getting in and remaining in the military. These differences in testing exist justifiably in most military roles, but in combat units that's a bad idea. A weak physical link is a bad place to be in for everyone. But make only one physical standard and that would bar many women from serving.
I haven't read the bill, but if it leaves something to "the services discretion" what is the problem? It would seem to allow certain women who can do it the possiblity, as the military sees fit, for that opportunity, but changing and making fitness minimums all the same would ruin allowing other women who couldn't hack it to remain in non-combat roles. If it isn't changing policy what's the deal?

Posted by: Jedno at May 30, 2005 12:41 PM

Combat MOS quallification standards are not the same as physical fitness tests. MOS qualification standards measure one's ability to do the RELEVANT tasks of a specific military job, eg: marksmanship. They are the same for men and women. A physical fitness test, eg: a timed mile run, measures overall health and fitness, and is properly age and sex adjusted.

Consider the Indyanapolis 500. Danica Patrick is 5'0" and weighs in at about 100 lbs. I'm sure taller, stronger, male drivers can lift heavier weights, and most can probably outrun her in the 100 yard dash. But the only RELEVANT question for Danica is, How fast can you drive? The obvious answer: very fast indeed.

SAW gunners have two relevant tasks. They must be damn good shots, and they must be willing to engage and kill the enemy. Many female MPs have proven adept at both tasks. And not one battle has been lost because of a woman manning a gun. No-one need fret about "lowering standards". When women are allowed to enter combat units they will have the same MOS qualification standards as men.

No doubt the Infantry will remain a predominantly male MOS. But barring truly qualified women from an MOS, because of what men think about their participation, is ridiculous.

Posted by: Dennis Swenie, MD at August 12, 2005 05:29 PM

I've always wanted to be a soldier for as long as I can remember. But, during high school, I learned in history class that women were still barred from direct combat roles. I want to be a real soldier. I want to participate in the direct combat theater directly. I don't want to do any other occupation in uniform except for this. But, I'm a woman. I love what I am. But, it's not easy being a woman. It's not easy to mull over the idea that your greatest ambition will very possibly never be materialized because of your gender. Without any ego, I tell you that if were to be given the training that I need to become a Green Beret, a SEAL, an elite warrior, I would be the greatest, and most loyal fighter the military has ever seen.

Posted by: Patricia at August 31, 2005 08:01 PM
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