The Pentagon has recently announced that the military will open up combat-related jobs to women. No doubt this has been a long and thought out decision for the military so I won’t pretend to know it all but there are some concerns that seem to rise to the surface right off the bat here for each and every female wanting to serve in a combat position.
First, some background. Two years ago Congress created the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, made up of active duty and retired military. The report says that current regulations restricting females in combat posts cover about 10% of of occupational careers in the Army and Marines, thusly keeping a barrier toward future promotions and advancement. Now, this report was created to review only the equal opportunity position of our military for women and minorities, and does not attempt to argue whether or not women are capable in all combat fields or if there are any moral issues.
The report concludes: “The Armed Forces have not yet succeeded in developing leaders who are as diverse as the nation they serve,” Continuing… “Minorities and women still lag behind white men in terms of number of military leadership positions.”
Ok, I can understand that certain restrictions regarding women serving in traditional combat roles do experience a military glass ceiling of sorts. Being ex-military myself I know that a military career can be helped along considerably if the career involves some service in combat zones. And truly, military diversity of leadership does indeed benefit the military as a whole, as with any organization. But what this report fails to study is whether the military should consider females serving in more combat-related positions. After all, it IS the U.S. military, responsible for the defense of the country, and thusly is the fighting arm of maintaining our freedoms and carrying out policy when needed.. not some corporation trying to increase sales of widgets or something. There is a strategic concern that we would want our fighting soldiers to be the best physical specimens on the battlefield as possible, along with having the best equipment and weapons. So I am not totally sold that the military even needs women in combat roles to be a success in carrying out its missions. Maybe the military is NOT an organization that should encourage women to seek careers; this is not about “I can be a general as well as any man.”, as if this were some workplace equality issue in a civilian corporation.
But… having said all that I can understand without question the desire of many women to want to serve in the military as a career. The same things that may appeal about military service to men, including a bit of old fashioned patriotism, can appeal to women as well. Up to this point, the military does include women in many support jobs but as we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, even support jobs in a war zone can be just as dangerous as serving in combat roles. As of Jan. 3rd, 110 women have been killed in Iraq ans 24 in Afghanistan. But this is more due to the Pentagon’s irrational decision (my opinion) to use Reservists in urban combat areas (with blurred “front lines”) rather than better-trained regular military. The enemy doesn’t care if the convoy is carrying baby food or weapons… or if the truck driver is a female or a male… it’s still a target. In a battle there is no such thing as battlefield immunity (just ask any reporter who has served in a war zone).
So.. the proponants of allowing females to serve in combat roles argue that they can fight too and that they should have the same military career opportunities as their male counterparts. Opponents of this seem to be centering on this idea that females, by nature, do not have the physical prowess or stamina for carrying out combat missions. I dunno.. both these views seem to leave out some pretty important issues. We all know the administrative and moral dilemmas and limitations with women in the military in general. Their biological needs have to be met, there are the normal relationship issues with other troops brought on by sexual tension, pregnancies, etc., and I am not debating any of that stuff in this post. Below are my thoughts.
- The issue about the physical differences between the genders is in fact a real issue. By comparison, women are not built for hand-to-hand combat, nor have the same physical ability to drag around the injured (loaded down with equipment), heavy weapons, etc., and do have physical limitations compared to males in their ability to meet the varied battlefield requirements that pop up in emergencies that may require sheer strength. No one doubts a female’s determination and moral strength under fire, but combat is way more than just pushing a button or pulling a trigger. During a firefight you want to know that your buddy next to you is also watching out for your ass as much as you are watching his… and that you can at least expect him to have the same physical stamina as you do if the mission requires it.
- Let’s carry this a tad further. Your buddy is a female… and you, a male, are in a tough position that requires certain defensive measures for survival. As a male, are you counting on her abilities to watch over you or are you now defending her because she’s a woman? It’s a cognitive moral dilemma because knowing which is the mental priority can make a difference of survival. Perhaps much of this is adjusting to a battlefield culture of accepting females as “buddy”, and ignoring our national culture of women being the fairer sex and needing protection. This culture-shift WILL NOT happen overnight. Males are taught from moment of birth that women are to be treated differently, so to expect this will change in a combat environment reliably and consistantly enough for mission work is likely a longshot at best.
- Related to the above… in my life experience I have not seen a whole lot of simply platonic relationships develop between males and females. It can happen.. but it’s not prevailing by any means. Nature provides for the sexual tension as a matter of survival of the human species. Now, I am in NO way suggesting that there will be X rated foxholes. What I am suggesting is that battlefield tensions (the desire to defend a woman because of implied or not relationships.. even simple friendships.. or simply trying to defend your female buddy knowing that if she’s captured the enemy will likely do things to her) can add to that tension thus mixing with mission demands. Can we get over that on the battlefield? I dunno.
Ok.. here’s the big one.. and in typical cultural fashion, we seem to be avoiding this. More women in combat will also result in greater risk of women falling prisoner.. either on the battlefield itself or kidnapped while off duty (given our enemies are smart enough not to engage us in open battlefields). Our enemies will be male… and since most of our enemies these days are Muslim extremists who have beliefs that women are subserviant, it’s not looking too good for American military females that end up getting captured. Rape and torture will be a greater risk.. and not simply just for tactical or strategic information; it could be for recreational or retributional reasons as well. It’s the nature of human history. Are we ready for this? As a combat female, are YOU ready for this? In fact, sad as this sounds, some of our own troops have been guilty of raping some of our own troops. (Note: Remember at the beginning of Desert Storm when female soldier Jessica Lynch was captured by Iraqis? There were all kinds of stories about a young and pretty blonde female soldier being captured by a bunch of dark, swarthy and grimey Iraqi soldiers lonely for home. Sexist fantasies aside, even to this day, Lynch neither confirms nor denies if she were raped or not… conscious or unconscious. Perhaps she doesn’t know.)
- There’s no room for modesty (or vanity, for that matter) on a battlefield. Women in combat have to be aware that relieving bodily functions and performing personal hygiene (or not, for long periods depending on the mission) could be a community thing by necessity (not likely time for tampon changing in a firefight either). Women who might get wounded and need medical attention should know that likely off come your clothes to save your life.
- We already have a military and national concern for the increase in suicides in the military rotating out of combat areas. It’s a medical fact that females in general seem to acquire certain mental maladies, like bi-polar depression, more frequently than males in general. Imagine what returning combat female veterans will be experiencing compared to their male veteran counterparts.
- It will be argued that other countries have integrated their females into the military in combat roles. That’s very true. Israel is a good example (although I am unsure as to the extent of the female role is in their military regarding offensive operations). But those countries don’t necessarily send their military into harm’s way as a matter of routine. It’s one thing having female soldiers in defensive combat reserve positions, where triggers are seldom pulled unless there is an invading army. But in offensive (even peace-keeping) missions, common with our military, that’s a whole different issue.
It seems as if we are all tetering on the edge of this same old problem of political correctness again. In our zest and zeal as a society in making great efforts to make sure we treat everyone.. every gender.. with some form of physical equality simply because some people rattle the discrimination label, is just incorrect. The genders ARE in fact different. Accept it.
Should women serve in the military in combat roles? You decide. For now the Pentagon seems to be doing its due diligence by having the service branches report their combat-related jobs for evaluation of exceptions. There’s also a 90-day reporting process on how transitions will proceed. As of this writing the Air Force technically has a combat rescue force for downed aircrews and some members are female. This force typically lands at a crash site and sets up a defensive paremeter while medical and rescue assistance is given. They are trained to defend while under fire so this is not just a band-aid and tourniquet rescue force. While heavy weapons could be used to engage an enemy, it still isn’t an offensive force by design either.
My point with this entire post is twofold.
To illustrate to female combat wannabes that life is not rosey in combat.
To illustrate to armchair supporters of women in combat that this is not simply just another battle to defeat male sexism in the workplace.
Let’s see how we feel in the next war when our daughter’s and mother’s caskets are brought home. War IS hell. There is NO humanity in battle when both sides are fighting for their lives.