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Women In Combat

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Most everyone knows the drill by now:  In January 2013, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta  announced the end of the direct ground combat exclusion rule for female service members. SECDEF directed the military services to evaluate all occupational performance standards to ensure such standards are up to date and gender-neutral. Gender neutrality was mandatory unless an exception was applied for and granted by the secretary.

As many pointed out at the time, the devil is in the details. In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better if DoD’s edict had been less nuanced, stating, for example, “Women will now serve in combat roles…deal with it.” But not in the ‘real world.’

Today as the deadline for services and commands to open all positions to women or apply for exemptions nears, ‘standards’ for combat units have become the subject of intense — and sometimes uninformed —debate.

It would be difficult to find serious observers who believe archetypical ‘out of shape 90-pound-weakings’ — male or female — should be incorporated into elite units and thrust into combat situations.

That said, in some — dare we say ‘reactionary’ — circles and commands ‘standards’ have devolved into a code word for excluding all women regardless of their fitness or qualifications.

But here’s the problem:  There are a plethora of standards out there.  Some are relevant.  Some are, well, simply fatuous.

Or as physical fitness expert Jim Gourley concludes “...physical standards for combat duty... have nothing to do with combat..

Bragging that “My boys can do more pull-ups than your boys (use of gender-specific noun deliberate)” makes for great fun at the officer’s club, but is far less relevant when it comes to accomplishing missions and successfully bringing your people home.

The ability to ’fireman carry’ a person whose weight equals yours may or may not be useful to firefighters, but combat veterans say transporting a wounded comrade on your shoulder in a firefight. is only good for turning one casualty into two.

And who can seriously assert that setting standards that would disqualify Audie Murphy, one of America’s most decorated combat soldiers, makes for a more effective fighting force.

Someone really needs to set standards for standards.

We’d suggest DoD undertake this project, but that would require a score of committees, a host of study groups and three years to digest data before reaching a conclusion.

Maybe a memo saying “Women will now serve in combat roles…deal with it.” is the right solution after all!


It’s Time to Set Standards for Combat Standards




The (Naysayer) Emperor Has No Clothes

When the wheat is separated from the chaff, arguments against the no-exceptions, full integration of the U.S. armed forces fall into three broad categories.

· Women Adversely Effect Unit Cohesion

· Standards Must Be Lowered for Women

· Women Are Too Fragile for War/If One Can’t Hack It, None Can Hack It


Yet even a cursory review of the scientific evidence presented by expert panelists or the anecdotal evidence offered by real world combat veterans at the Women in Combat — Where They Stand Conference  shows the naysayers ‘have no clothes.’


· Scientific evidence indicates long term, task-oriented unit cohesion is generally improved by inclusion of women in close-knit units; female veterans report that the ’stare factor’ evaporates after a few days or when the first shot is fired, whichever comes first.  On unit cohesion, the naysayer emperor has no clothes.

· Current standards were not handed down from deities on stone tablets; many are subjective (Does Lt. Smith look like a platoon leader?) while other bear little relation to real world duties.  Prime example: Experts have concluded,  that physical standards for combat duty have nothing to do with combat.”  On standards, the naysayer emperor has no clothes.

· Any reporter worth his or her byline can find a grumpy, superannuated colonel or crusty battle-hardened NCO who is certain — likely without ever having served in harm’s way with or under a woman — that women are too fragile for war, that no woman can do what he has done in combat.  That’s theory.  But wait a minute:  Women have served under fire for centuries and — the ’Alice in Wonderland’ combat exclusion notwithstanding — in combat situations for decades.  Those who have served with women almost unanimously say most can withstand the mental and physical rigors of war. All women? No, but neither can all men.   Once again, the naysayer Emperor has no clothes.