The integration of females into combat roles within male-only units is on the horizon. Several women have already enlisted and have their ship dates for their basic training. Once they get to their units, it will be on their leadership to uphold the standards for job performance, physical fitness, and general regulations. According to Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley,
Those standards were developed through years upon years of blood-soaked lessons learned in combat,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee during an April 7 hearing. “They are neither male nor female. They are combat standards. And if you meet the standards for combat, then you pass go, collect $200 and move on your way. If you don’t, then you do something else in life. Those standards are inviolable.”
When I was enlisted as an Army combat medic, I was often the only female assigned to armor units. Most of the male leadership had no clue about enforcing female standards. They were either intimidated, didn’t know the regulations, or just didn’t care. It was very much a sink or swim environment. At the time, being the only female wasn’t a big deal as you either kept up or got left behind. When the new females soldiers get to their combat arms units, it will probably be slightly different as now they are under the microscope and everyone is watching.
Female leaders are great at zeroing in on female-specific standards because they have been ingrained into us since we entered the Army. The Army will be implementing a “leaders first approach” program that will place mid-level commissioned and non-commissioned female officers throughout the units as mentors for the female enlisted soldiers. What will the mentorship program look like? The Army hasn’t publicly released those details yet other than they will serve as “role models.” What does that even realistically mean on an execution level? Will they be used as a crutch, delaying a sense of normalcy for the units?
Where the female “mentors” could help the most would be assisting with the junior- and company-level male leadership. Help them learn how to lead and enforce standards with the female soldiers. Not necessarily suggesting they hold their hands through on-the-spot corrections or quarterly counseling, but be available for specific female-related questions or issues.
No one talks about the mundane part of the female integration into combat arms. My recommendation for the company level leadership is to take the initiative and learn the female-specific standards and regulations (PT, height and weight, uniforms, maternity leave, etc.) before the first female soldier arrives. Be prepared for the female soldiers to try to take advantage of the learning curve. Don’t let them; uphold the standards. The last things a combat arms guy wants to learn about are female-specific regulations such as fingernail polish color, height of the high heel, hair braids, length of hair that isn’t secured, skirt length, color of the hair band, jewelry, etc. These things might seem trivial, but if the smaller standards aren’t upheld, then the larger ones that have to do with job performance will be an even bigger issue down the road.