Women and men are becoming more integrated across the Department of Defense (DoD), particularly in the regular infantry, which is a reversal of the traditional structure throughout the U.S. military’s history.
Women can do amazing things. They have graduated from Ranger School; passed the excruciating Marine Corps Basic Reconnaissance Course; and now graduated from the SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection (SOAS) program. Not only did they do it, but they excelled in many areas proving that they have what it takes physically and mentally to pass every obstacle in their way.
Not for one moment do I take issue with a female servicemember having the courage and ability to take on such a challenge. Those who tried have attempted something that I never did myself.
Where I do take issue with women being allowed to join the ranks of the Special Operations Forces (SOF) — and direct combat jobs in general — is the significance beyond the accomplishment. Aside from the individual achievement, how does it make the Armed Forces more efficient and effective?
Do we have so many women wanting to try out for selection that the dam was about to break if we didn’t open the floodgates? Was there a shortage of capable men? Is the DoD really better off with women in SOF and infantry roles, or are we just having it rammed down our throats in the sake of fairness and equal opportunity? In reality, we’re making significant changes with reverberating effects throughout various military institutions and military families. Changes that are not really being factored in.
I served in a support role with a Marine infantry regiment (no females) and later a command element (several females), so I have existed in both worlds. Having personally served alongside women during portions of my active duty service in the Marine Corps, I have seen the good and the bad with that integration.
In terms of doing their contracted job, women can outperform a larger part of their male counterparts than most people realize. Women are just as capable and effective in support roles as any man is. One of the most effective leaders I had was a female senior enlisted Marine. For better or worse, she had a nurturing style that created a positive work environment for the 15-20 of us that she was in charge of.
Quite frankly there are women who can outperform the average male servicemember in basic physical fitness tests — and in some cases a fist fight. But to be honest, that number is relatively small.
While the previously mentioned female senior enlisted Marine was effective, my opinion is that it only worked because that unit was a command element that never spent any time in the field, let alone deployed to a combat zone. Forward-deployed units (particularly infantry) can be brutal places. Are the majority of women cut out for that type of environment? Based on my experiences, no. But then again, only a minority of women will gravitate towards close-combat jobs in the first place. And they, knowing the toughness of the environment, are more likely to be extraordinary.
Several years prior to serving under the previously mentioned female Marine, there were many times during Marine Combat Training (MCT) when my female-integrated platoon experienced breakdowns by our female Marine instructor. When the platoon was not listening or performing well-enough, the female instructor on more than one occasion resorted to tears. Why do I bring that up? In my experience, the average woman simply processes stress differently. If you have ever served in an infantry unit (in a direct or support role), you understand the level of stress involved. Would I trust that teary-eyed instructor to not break down in a combat situation? Not in a million years. None of the male leaders I served under had a public breakdown involving tears. Both of the females I served under did.
Why I think having women serve with men in a combat role doesn’t make our forces more effective
If I haven’t lost you already, let me be clear that I think women are amazing, can do amazing things and are capable of outperforming men in many cases. But I am not really interested in the performance aspect, although, the now-cliché example of a 120-pound female struggling to drag a 200-pound male counterpart off the battlefield illustrates a legitimate concern.
My main concern is the emotional, physiological and sexual aspects of integrating men and women in combat roles.
Before you accuse me of being sexist, let me cover some of the things that I actually experienced and saw with my own eyes.
During my time in Marine Combat Training, a significant portion of every day was spent listening to the female Marines complain about where they were going to stand in formation or bickering about other mundane things instead of just getting on with their day. This petty mindset was something that the all-male platoons never experienced. It was a completely different environment, and not in a good way. There were male and female Marines sneaking off at night to do their dirty business in an even dirtier portable toilet stall. There were female Marines interacting inappropriately with married male Marines by exchanging phone numbers and sending nude photos.
Not one of the latter instances was the sole fault of the women. The men were every bit as culpable. My point in bringing that up isn’t to say that women or men were at fault. It is that when you put them together, those types of things are going to happen. Does that make an infantry platoon more effective in combat where the troops will be sharing close and intimate quarters?
Of all of the studies that have been completed (which never once proved integration to be more effective in any way), how much time was spent polling the spouses of married servicemembers on what they thought about their significant other racking out next to the hot new guy or gal in the platoon? I’ll go out on a limb and say not much. Does that type of situation make the fighting force more effective when the spouses start having problems at home because of insecurities about what their spouse is doing in the field or overseas?
My own experiences serving with female servicemembers aside, it is not difficult to put yourself in the place of a servicemember’s spouse to realize that adding this dynamic to an already-difficult military life is not likely to make it easier. I’d argue that it will make things worse.
When a sniper platoon is preparing for a combat deployment, they spend every waking moment training as a team. What are the chances of “Corporal Smith” — a male — getting pregnant two months before deployment and hurting the effectiveness of the unit by not being able to train or deploy? Significantly lower than a female.
On a similar topic, aren’t military leaders focused on reducing sexual assault in the military? I don’t quite understand how throwing a female into the mix with a bunch of savage warriors (I mean that as a term of endearment) is going to decrease the odds of a sexual assault. As a matter of fact, the more the issue of female integration into combat arms is pushed, I predict that we will see a significant spike in sexual assaults. Again, as I mentioned earlier, it isn’t the woman’s fault. After all, it is the politician that put her in that situation.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
Women have fought and died in combat. Women have outperformed men physically and mentally. And women have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with. But until we have enough women passing SOF selection in great enough numbers to where they can comprise their own teams and platoons, I just don’t think that because they can be integrated with male counterparts that they should be. It doesn’t make the fighting force any more effective or deadly — after all, that is the point of having a military fighting force.
I think the best long term solution is the formation of all-female special operations platoons which will provide the most appropriate culture for those women to excel on and off the battlefield in situations where a female presence provides strategic value, similar to how Female Engagement Teams have been utilized in combat zones. In the short term, I think women should continue to be allowed to attempt selection courses, but then reassigned to a support unit.
The mission and the well-being of our servicemembers should always come first. Not social justice.