Monday, February 13, 2012

Women's equality in the military isn't all about PT

Changes to DoD's rescinding of the co-location exclusion* has driven quite a bit of discussion - as can be expected. Most of it has not been about the reason I feel is the main crux of the matter (or why DoD didn't entirely remove restrictions on what jobs women can do in the military) and instead has focused almost entirely on the differences between men and women writ large. The best I've read were from Caitlin FitzGerald and Torie Rose DeGhett, but I want to dial down into something Caitlin talked about.

Caitlin delves into the arguments that a) men will react differently towards female comrades than male from a protective emotional basis and b) the physical differences of the sexes. I think she rightfully dismisses the former. There is some literature that this occurs apparently, but norms change and I think they will over time with this one. On the latter argument, Caitlin also rightfully draws out that not all men are stronger than all women. Lord knows I've served with women who were in much better shape than I was that I'm sure would have excelled in the infantry (take that statement for what's it worth: I was a mech cavalryman, but I'm pretty sure I have an understanding of what light infantry does from small doses).

So what do I have to add to all of this? I'll start by pointing to this AP article when the ban was lifted (that I lambasted on Twitter because of its very flawed description of brigades relative to battalions and what the change actually meant - this is not an endorsement of the entire article) and a quote towards the end from Anu Bhagwati, a former captain in the Marine Corps and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network:
"To continue such a ban is to ignore the talents and leadership that women bring to the military, and it further penalizes servicewomen by denying them the opportunity for future promotions and assignments that are primarily given to personnel from combat arms specialties."
I can't argue with her - it is unlikely that we'll see a woman as a COCOM commander, service chief, or CJCS if their career paths are combat service and combat service support. Logisticians of either gender are simply not considered for these roles. I'm not going to argue for or against this de facto policy - just acknowledging that it exists. And it's a very good reason to argue that women are being held back because of who they are - an idea that is antithetical to modern American military ethics. Or at least it should be. (I should also note that as the Air Force and Navy have opened so many of their positions up to women, they are going to lead the way with female GOs in a generation or so - that's when things are really going to start getting embarrassing for the Army).

But getting back to how this relates to the issues discussed by Caitlin. If the most practical reason for continuing a ban is that most women are weaker than most men, then the solution to integrating women into all combat arms MOSs will be to ensure that only our military's fittest women will matriculate into those combat arms. However, if the main reason to do this equality in general and specifically to provide women with a path to the highest levels of uniformed service, it seems that we're putting a pretty big emphasis on how much of a PT stud that woman is and not her capabilities to command, lead troops, think strategically, and so on and so forth, that you look for in a high-level commander. PT is important for males and their progression as well, but the bar isn't as high as it would be for women. I foresee continued problems with providing women with real equality in uniform even if we come up with physical standards that are equally applied to men and women.

It might take time (and we do still have to solve that little draft issue), but women in combat arms MOSs is an inevitability. Just as with issues of race and homosexuality, change is coming. And I do hope sooner rather than later, as painful as it's likely to be at first. But this might be a good time to also take a good, hard look at how we choose our highest ranking leaders. PT studs and successful brigade command do not a strategic leader make - for men or women. Full equality - that also meets the best interests of the nation - may require looking to those intelligence and logistics officers who think and lead strategically for higher commands, outside of AMC. So while physical differences are an impediment to full women's equality in the military, it's not the only one.

*(And can we all stop talking about "women in combat"? Women are in combat. They're not allowed in combat MOSs. It's not the same thing.)


  1. A combat MOS performs a different role in "combat." Operating in an combat MOS means an entirely opposite set of tactics to the functions these women are performing in while coming under fire. If you call combat buttoning up or hauling ass, then sure, women could do that.

  2. I wonder if the female aviators who have held themselves at risk of hostile fire to provide air support to all-male ground combat formations rather than "buttoning up or hauling ass" faced the same gender-based courage- and aggression-deficit that you've identified here.

    Accepting that I've never been in a position to find out, I'd be quite surprised if those women whose natural instinct it is to do anything but assault toward enemy fire are not similarly amenable to having that instinct trained out of them, just as with those male lance corporals and specialists who also instinctively fear death.

  3. I'm with Gulliver. "Buttoning up or hauling ass" doesn't explain what I've seen women do in combat - or at least in any greater number than the rest of the Army. Transporters may do that a lot, but that has more to do with their mission than their gender breakdown, methinks. The aviator example is a good one if you want to question women's ability to put themselves into harms way to stick it to the enemy. I know quite a few female helo drivers I'd have has as my wingman any day. And I'm talking OH-58s with no doors shooting M4s from the cockpit because they ran out of ammo kind of stuff.

  4. USMC attack/assault helicopter pilots perform the same duties and possess the same skills, regardless of gender. There are no restrictions specific to women in those MOSs, and if there were, it would be ridiculous. Retired Colonel here, and I'd fight alongside the WMs anyday. Some of my best Marines were women, and their presence, skills, insight, comraderie, and kick-ass made my squadrons infinitely better.

  5. > "I can't argue with her - it is unlikely that we'll see a woman as a COCOM commander, service chief, or CJCS if their career paths are combat service and combat service support."

    What about CSAF Gen. Shwartz? He was a C-130 driver who rose to 4-star level, commanded TRANSCOM, and now CSAF. I remember a minor flurry of "wow, they made a logistician a service chief" at the time. So I don't exactly buy the argument that those very-top-level jobs are somehow unattainable by women BECAUSE OF combat MOS restrictions. (see also: GEN Cody (former VCSA) was an aviator, a job open to women)

    Also--serious question--what would evidence of "equality" look like in the highest ranks? 50% women? 16.4% women (the % of commissioned officers in DoD that are women)? Here's a stat for you: in the Fortune 500, there are 12 companies with a woman as CEO (or 2.4%). In DoD, there are two women 4-star officers (more accurately: one current, one very recently nominated). That's 5.7%; not only double the % of Fortune 500 CEOs, but also drawing on a smaller proportion of the workforce (assuming that Fortune 500 companies have much greater than 16% female population).

    So what problem are we trying to solve here? It seems that whatever problems women face within DoD, they also face to the same or greater extent OUTSIDE DoD. So are "men only" jobs like infantry/armor the controlling variable here? I'm not sure that it is. You might say the problem is the glass ceiling in society at large--and that's fine, but I don't think allowing women in the infantry is going to solve it.

  6. There should be little doubt that some individual women could perform well in ground combat, but that is completely beside the point. We are, or should be in the business of creating cohesive, cost effective units whose primary mission is to paraphrase :"close with and destroy the enemy by fire, maneuver, and close combat" In this environment the individual is secondary to the unit. Military historian Martin Van Creveld has written excellent research about the history of Israeli women in ground combat jobs; to summarize the Israeli experiment was a failure because women hurt unit cohesion and thus effectiveness. Other research indicates that women will require more training time to meet physical standards of men, and are more likely to be injured performing in ground combat positions...both outcomes equal wasted money and time, assets in perpetual short supply.
    Point two; there is no research to indicate that women are penalized for promotion or advancement by their exclusion from ground combat jobs. According to the Military Leadership Diversity Commission's report, women, per capita, are more likely to be promoted than their male peers. We will see a female CCDR, probably sooner, rather than later.
    Point three, ground combat is an ugly, mean business that demands tremendous physical strength, endurance, physical and mental toughness, and the ability to push through situations you have no expectation of surviving. Anyone who has not experienced it, and I mean really experienced it, e.g. Fallujah, Najaf, Ramadi, Sadr City, Helmand, Khost, etc., and not just flown over it or run COIN patrols in pacified areas has no business commenting on the ability of women to handle ground combat. Ask someone who has been there before running your mouth.

    1. This guy knows what he's talking about.

  7. First to Unknown at 07:48:

    I can't speak to the USAF and Gen. Schwartz - I think a lot of the progress on women and non-combat guys getting to the top of service is going to come from the AF. As for Cody, he's a terrible example for service support guys making it big. He commanded 160th SOAR and the 101st Airborne Division - success there is what led to his becoming VCSA. As far as I know, there is no viable path for a woman to accede to either of those positions in the Army or even ones like them (women are not allowed to fly in 160th as far as I know).

    You also must keep in mind that women were just allowed to serve in organizations like ADA, some FA, and attack AV in the mid-1990s. We're still in a generational lag between accession of women into these types of jobs and when they can start commanding at the GO level.

    I can't honestly answer the equality-by-percentage question. I don't know. I would guess that some times there should be more than 16.4% of the 4-star level that are women and times when it should be less - based on the leadership attributes of the persons at the time. I haven't made that next leap yet, I'm just posing that they can't reach the highest levels (which isn't 4-stars to me, it's COCOM CDR, CJCS, CSA, etc).

    And finally, no, allowing women into the infantry is not going to end opportunity disparity in society at large. But because the nation is doing is doesn't mean the military should be doing it. I've met some very exception warriors and leaders in the Army who happened to be women. They, and everyone else, knew that there was a ceiling on how far they could go. And I think that hurts the service.

  8. Anonymous at 08:12:

    I've not read van Creveld's writing on the topic, but frankly I don't much care. The Israeli Army is a whole different beast than the US Army and I'm not sure we can easily draw parallels or comparisons (starting with conscription in Israel and ending with: I don't think they're that great of an Army professionally; but that's a whole, whole different topic).

    Corollary to your first point is the additional training and injury rates. We're going to need some studies before and during implementation, whenever that happens. And again, I've never served in the infantry, but I have absolutely no doubt that women can serve on tanks (as an example of other parts of the exclusion).

    For your point 2: We may see a female COCOM CDR sooner rather than later, but that commander is going to come from the Air Force (most likely) or the Navy. And not the Army because that path just doesn't currently exist. Nor does it for the other support-types in the Army who happen to be male but may have a better strategic mind and leadership aptitude than the coterie of successful brigade commanders.

    Point three: I spent 3 years in Iraq, did the invasion and a couple of other years including the Surge - where we were not in a pacified area and fighting was the toughest I'd seen since tangling with the Hammurabi Division in tank-on-tank fighting. Not "COIN patrols in pacified areas" or whatever. So while I appreciate your stopping by and otherwise sensible comments, maybe next time take a second to research the target of your attack before you start running your mouth.

  9. Jason,

    I wasn't attacking you personally, just the ignorance of your post and most of the replies. I meant "don't run your mouth" in the nicest "you don't know what you're talking about and are advocating a position that will get lots of Americans unnecessarily killed" way. To wit:

    Though I concur on your assessment of the Israeli Army's fighting prowess, the idea Israeli infantry combat is so different from the American infantry combat experience that it has no validity is laughable. Seriously, "you're not sure" that we can draw any parallels between the Israeli Army's experiences and our Army's experiences in the last ten years. Lebanon, Gaza Strip, Najaf, Al Fajr...nothing, huh?

    I have zero tank experience, if you think women can be tankers, then fine. I wouldn't wish the discipline problems that come with mixed units on my enemies; so more power to you for taking on the challenge.

    Thank you for your service. However, your experience shooting Iraqi tanks, and other associated non-infantry combat activity, gives you exactly zero valid points of reference about the demands of infantry combat. Riding in an armored vehicle shooting things and waiting to been blown up, while tough, is as closely related to infantry combat as apples are to giraffes. Just because you might have seen it happen doesn't make you qualified to comment on it.

    Seriously, go ask an infantryman in Khost, Paktika, or Helmand; or who has experienced high-intensity dismounted combat (e.g. Najaf, Fallujah, Sadr City, Ramadi, Kandahar, etc.) if: A) having a women in the unit would negatively affect unit cohesion, B) if women could handle infantry combat, and C) if they think having women in the unit would lower unit performance and capabilities and get more people killed. If you can find ten that say "yes" I'll apologize to you.

  10. This is a better explanation for my first comment. All you tankers, aviation, and other less pointy spearhead units can take the women along with you. The Infantry needs women like we need a draft.

  11. Dear Earth Pig..

    I have seen Tank Crewmen individually manually move 2 tons of ammo in and or out of the Tank from the ground thru the loaders hatch before the days festivities. Each man of the crew handing the rounds between 45 and 75 lbs each. Each Track Block of which there are roughly 73 on a side weighs approximated 250 lbs they must be maintained and when required replaced by hand in the field.. Now eat live and excrete inside the Pig when the interior temperatures reach 135-140 degrees, drink a quart of water every 20 min for days straight.. run until a Bn of men begin hallucinating and driving off bridges or down ravines.

    We are your older Bigger Brothers, ask anyone who has had us around when things go South. Without us always out numbered US Infantrymen facing anything but a bunch of primitives living in Mud Huts and Caves.. You will be in Deep Hudda faster than the women your trying to saddle us with can ride in on their menstrual cycles demanding they be included where they cannot carry the freight.

    Dead lift an unconscious bloody 200lb Tanker from the bottom of the turret thru the loaders hatch by the back of the neck (there is a strap there). If you cannot do that 3 times in 4-5 min.. Get the hell off my Tank..your a liability to my crew.. Anyone man or women who cannot meet the standard but still demands to be included is a selfish self centered piece of dung.. end of story..

    You Women Officers who are pushing this crap so you can have a Combat Command.. Your not worthy to wear the Uniform nor hold rank.. It is about service.. to serve the people of the United States.

    It's not a social club nor is the purpose of the Armed Forces to satisfy your personal agendas or Willimina Mittyesque fantasies..


    1. This is so laughably bad I'm going to leave it up here. That way 50 years from now our successors will have an explanation as to why this took so long.