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Don’t Lift the Combat Arms Exclusions

Originally Posted 11/29/2012 in response to a lawsuit to drop the Combat Arms exclusion preventing women from serving in certain combat arms units. The ban has since been lifted by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. The reasoning posted below remains valid, and is currently playing out in the Marine Corps testing and integration of women into the Infantry Officer’s training.

There is a new lawsuit the federal courts demanding all exclusions
barring women from ground combat positions be dropped in the name of
equal opportunity. This would be a great mistake. We have achieved the
right balance of opportunities for women and the requirement to maintain
certain sex-based exclusions to meet our national interests.

Women,
such as General Ann Dunwoody, are commanding at the highest levels and
serving effectively in many combat, combat related, and intelligence
related roles. There are many brave women who are flying combat missions
and out on patrols in Military Police, Civil Affairs, and Intelligence
roles alongside the Infantry in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle
East.  When working with the Infantry, they are performing
roles that men are incapable of in those cultures to gather critical
intelligence and provide inroads through healthcare and education to the
veiled half of those societies.  These women have proven
themselves more than capable of defending themselves when attacked. To
date, two women have been awarded Silver Stars for bravery under fire
while defending their units in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

But
there are realities of warfare that remain the same as they have
throughout history, and there are certain types of units that must
remain all male.  While there are some very physically fit
women who can outperform the average man at endurance and strength
tests, they are the rare exceptions to the rule. When it comes to the
pure applications of “brute force and ignorance” that goes along with
closing with and killing other men who are actively trying to kill you,
under conditions which require physical exertions  that exceed those of any NFL game, men are simply more suited to the occasion.  The reality is far different from what Hollywood portrays in the movies.

Imagine if our sense of political correctness required that 20 percent of one NFL team’s starting lineup include women.  It
would fundamentally change the game. The effects on the capabilities of
our ground combat units would be no less than the effects such a move
would have on a professional sports team. But the cost would be much
higher.

There are physical differences between men and women that no amount of social engineering can overcome.  The
starkest example I can think of goes back to my college judo team. We
had the best women’s college player in the nation on our team. But she
could not throw most of the men she practiced with.  I
remember seeing her pinned once in a free play by a smaller man who had
just joined the team and whose only grappling training was in a required
PE wrestling class.

This
truth of physical strength in martial endeavors applies when carrying
70 to 100 lbs of gear up the side of a mountain at 10,000 feet above sea
level to root Al Qaeda members out of caves, when repairing the 3 ton
track of an M1 tank in the snow, and to all the tasks related to the
movement and operation of a field artillery piece or other heavy armored
vehicles.

Then
there are the political realities of implementation which are
completely ignored by those advocating the removal of the combat
exclusions.  The most important is that it will make women
subject to the draft. Without the exclusion, there is no legal
justification to drafting only men into military service. 

 All
those arguing for this, need to consider the NFL analogy again. While
they might argue that women should be allowed to play in the NFL if they
could meet the standards, do they really want to make the argument that
an NFL team must make a quota and implement different strength and
speed standards for those women who want to play, but are not quite as
strong and fast as the male players? Do they really want to make the
argument that women should be called up and forced to play on that NFL
team?  Would they then expect that team to win, when it plays against teams which do not have those requirements?  

Once
the barrier preventing women from voluntarily serving in the Infantry
is removed, there will be no legal barrier to preventing them from being
forced to serve in the Infantry. Is this what our country wants?

 

 William Russell is a retired
Infantry Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Army and has served
in Desert Storm, the Balkans, the Iraq War, and the Pentagon on 9/11.

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