A Hill Talk Editorial:  Women in combat roles

On December 3, 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the Pentagon would formally lift all gender-based restrictions for females serving in the armed forces beginning 2 January 2016.  While the move was saluted by some groups as further progress and the removal of another barrier between genders, the Pentagon failed to carefully consider research which concluded an erosion in effectiveness emerged during trials in mixed-gender units.

Beginning in the mid-70s, in unison with a ripple in the feminist movement, roles expanded for females choosing military service.  Today, nearly seventy-five percent of military jobs are now available to women.  To date, with America currently engaged in conflicts in the Middle East, women serve with distinction and contribute to military successes in combat zones as pilots, intelligence experts, in critical logistical roles, and as military policemen.

With few exceptions, women serving in the military has been an encouraging experience, but until early December, restrictions remained in place for females from serving in units of battalion-size or smaller, particularly for Special Operations units, and largely for their own safety.

President Obama’s and Mr. Carter’s decision to lift the final restrictions on females serving in all roles, combat particularly, has ignored the critical concerns and recommendations from a year-long United States Marine Corps’ study which outlined in detail effects of females serving alongside men in combat roles.

The Marine Corps’ study concluded male-only units outperformed mixed-gender units.

“Specifically, that Marine Corps-sponsored study found male-only infantry units shot more accurately, could carry more weight and move more quickly through some tactical maneuvers. The study also found higher injury rates for women than for men,” said the Marine Corps study.        

At odds with the Army and Navy, both of which have expanded roles for women except in highly-specialized formations such as Green Berets, Navy SEALs and the Air Force Para-rescue, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, continued to argue against expanded roles for women for all branches.

Critics condemned the Marine Corps study as defective and cited failure to delineate male units which had prior combat training when compared to female units which did not in the study.  Critics further charged the focal point of the review was collective rather than individual results.

While detractors grip a legitimate point, they fail to realize individual performance is important, but collective performance is essential and tantamount in the conduct of military operations.

Lambasting the Marine Corps’ research was Ellen Haring, a retired Army colonel who now works with Women in International Security, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, and has studied the issue intensively.

“The Marine Corps has always been looking for data that would justify continued exclusion of women from the infantry. This study has been fundamentally flawed,” says Haring.

Despite the study, concerns for females in a combat role remain paramount among current or former servicemen for both the physical standards required to qualify for combat and the individual safety of females in a combat zone.

Patrick Murphy, a former (E-4) scout sniper attached to the Army’s elite 82nd Airborne who served in Iraq in 2007-2008, welcomes the contributions women create in roles which they currently serve.  Murphy, however, demonstrated his concern and skepticism over the Pentagon’s decision.  Murphy’s rationale for his opposition to females in combat is the less-than-ideal conditions offered in a combat zone:  Summoning awkward accommodations and mentioning crude hygiene, Murphy indicated mixed-gender units are untenable.  When questioned about a woman’s safety and potential violations should they fall into captivity, Murphy was blunt and unsparing:  “Do you know how vulnerable she will be?

Safety concerns notwithstanding, questions related to the physical rigors of combat persist:  It is urgent physical standards not be attenuated to meet this new Pentagon directiveQualifying for the infantry remains a demanding, physical enterprise.  To certify, a recruit must accomplish a wide variety of physical tasks, including the ability to bear as much as 80 pounds of gear, along with handling a combat rifle, and traverse long, rugged terrain.  This is an exercise not all men are able to complete, let along most females.

Most servicemen of all ranks are unwilling to reveal both safety concerns or physical ability among females for fear of being branded sexist, or worse.

While the military has been confronted with and overcome the challenge of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military, or sexual tensions with females in existing roles, this particular issue, women in combat, poses different concerns.  The fear of physical ability raises the unsettling reality the military will be forced to lower physical fitness standards to allow more women within the ranks of combat formations.  While there is no guarantee women will flock to the recruiting offices and demand a combat role as a condition for their enlistment, a combat role for females is too crucial in comparison to recent antecedents.

Typical of the Obama Administration, they put aside a carefully-compiled Marine Corps’ study for political reasons, specifically choosing to bow to the left, a court challenge and collapsing under the weight of feminists’ demands to fit their political and social itinerary.

The military should not be the location where social or scientific experimentation take place.  At stake is the defense of the country and both Mr. Obama and Mr. Carter, along with their supporters on this vital issue, put aside concrete data in order to recklessly maintenance their political coterie.


[WIISglobal.org] [scribd.com] [meganhmackenzie.com] [The Guardian] [militarytimes.com] [WashingtonTimes.com] [WashingtonPost.com] [Reuters] [ACLU.org] [Photo courtesy NYDailynews.com]