Should women be assigned to combat units?
I’ve been curious about this since I read She Went to War, by Rhonda Cornum, the first (only?) female POW of the Gulf War. Officially, women are banned from combat. Or are they?
Sgt. 1st Class Turrie Peoples was stationed in the Green Zone in Baghdad, under regular mortar fire. Peoples may be the first female, senior NCO to lead a platoon in a war zone. “People don’t always agree with women in combat,” she said. “But I got a lot of support. I give credit to my platoon. They’re who makes you as a leader.”
In a war with no defined front, the reality is that women are under fire just like their male counterparts.
Women remain barred from infantry, armor, special forces and certain artillery units. Defense Department policy also excludes them from units smaller than a brigade - 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers - with the primary mission of engaging in direct combat on the ground. That still leaves room for them to serve in police, supply, maintenance and other units that closely support combat troops. Those units are vulnerable in Iraq, where conventional front lines don't exist and insurgents target relatively lightly protected patrols and supply lines. "We've always operated under the assumption that there were such things as front-line troops," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution. "It's obviously not true in an insurgency or stabilization mission."What has been happening unofficially up until may soon be officially sanctioned, according to the Center for Military Readiness in this article:
The supposedly “unofficial” Women in the Army Point Paper includes a subtle but momentous change in the wording of current Defense Department regulations, which the Army does not have the power to make. Current rules prohibit the assignment of female soldiers from assignment to “battalion size or small units which are assigned a primary mission to engage in direct ground combat or which collocate routinely with units assigned a direct ground combat mission.” (AR 600-13, as affirmed by DoD, 1994, emphasis added).The idea described in the article is that the women would be evacuated prior to engagement. The Center emphatically disagrees with the whole notion of women in combat, and especially of this backdoor way of getting women in combat. This phenomenon may be a strange convergence of liberal social engineering and army officials who apparently claim that there are not enough male soldiers for forward support companies. This last, referred to in the CMR article linked above, was news to me, as I spoke yesterday to the son of a friend, who was angry when he found out that his Airborne unit was being deployed to West Point instead of Afghanistan. He’s considering asking to be transferred to another unit who is going overseas; a difficult choice to leave the men he has trained with and learned to trust. CMR asserts that if there are shortages, they are due in large part to gender-based recruiting quotes which ought to be done away with.
The new wording would only exempt female soldiers from such assignments when the land combat battalions are “conducting an assigned direct ground combat mission.” (emphasis added) Under this new “concept,” female soldiers in forward support companies won't be collocated, even though they will be in the FSCs, because they really won’t be there when the battle begins.
I’m not really sure whether a woman who can meet the exact same physical requirements as a man, and who wants to be assigned to a combat unit ought to be excluded. I haven’t seen studies on how this would affect unit cohesiveness or morale. I’m guessing the effect would be bad. But if they are going to be assigned to combat units, the only determining factor ought to be, Will it help us win? This Chicago Sun-Times column sums it up: “It's high time we had an open and honest debate about this issue, because it's too important to just let the bureaucrats have their way by default.”
Posted by Laura Curtis at April 25, 2005 01:02 AM
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|# April 25th, 2005 9:15 AM kris|
|I think that in today's military, capable women should almost certainly be allowed into combat situations. I think women should also have to register for the draft. We have the same obligation to protect our country as men do. Now, that said, if there was a draft, I'd give the Defense Dept. the ability to draft exactly who they wanted. And yes, instead of running to Canada, any woman could get out of her military service by getting pregnant, but hey, what are you going to do?
The common argument against women in combat is that the presence of women will somehow ruin the cohesiveness of a unit. Maybe this was true in the past, but the fact of the matter is that American men and women have been working together for decades now. The men in the military today have grown up with women in their places of work and sometimes even with women superiors. It's a different world now.
If it will help us win, we shouldn't be twisting our military strategy to keep women out of combat.
|# April 25th, 2005 9:56 AM james|
|"it's a different world now," kris? men still want to sleep with women, don't they? that didnt change in the last 50 years, did it? get a little lovers triangle going in the unit and see how long the unit remains "cohesive." it's a mistake to just look around you and say "oh, women are in working world, so women should fight."
the main problem that i see with women in combat, though, is that batallions with women become more of a target than those without, owe to the fact that some enemies will want to capture the women to "have their way" with them. if i'm a man, i don't want a woman in my unit for that reason alone. i dont need a bigger target on my back.
it's no twist of military strategy to keep women out of combat, kris - it was a huge twist to get women _in_ in in the first place. it's a continuing sham to pretend that a 100 lb woman is "just as capable" as a man based solely on her gender. but that's what we do, we twist and pretend, and we lower the bar. and that likely costs lives. it's not worth soldiers' lives to put a warm feeling in everyone's hearts.
and you know, i readily admit (like it sounds like laura is admitting) that i have no idea what the stats are on this, or what the true effect is on cohesiveness of the unit, etc - i'm not a military strategist. therefore, i am extremely deferential to those in the military when they set policy. if norman schwartzkopf says that women in combat situations is bad, i'm not going to second guess him. and politicians shouldn't, either.
|# April 25th, 2005 11:04 AM kris|
|I'm not advocating that we pretend incapable women are capable for the sake of some kind of gender quotas, but rather that if women can meet the same physical requirements as men do, then they should be allowed in combat. I don't want to lower the bar, but rather not discriminate against women who can clear it.
As for twisting military strategy, that was a reference to the idea in Laura's article about evacuating female personnel from a particular area prior to engagement.
is your argument that women shouldn't be allowed in combat units because men might want to have sex with them? i think that's pretty weak. Make it against military policy to hook up and punish those folks who do, but don't punish capable women because they might be a temptation.
|# April 25th, 2005 12:04 PM Laura|
|I'm perplexed by the whole thing, frankly. That's why I asked the question, to hear other people's opinions; on this site we may have the occasional troll-like posting but in general I can rely on well-reasoned discussion. I don't like it, I don't want women in combat, I think it's wrong. But that is purely emotional with no facts to back it up. I did find these articles written for the Combined Arms
Center Military Review this morning. They give a lot of persuasive reasons on why qualified women should be permitted to engage in combat. This article concludes
The infantry will most likely struggle at first, but once women reach critical mass in units and in the overall infantry, unit cohesion and combat readiness should improve in ways we now probably cannot imagine. Change is part and parcel of the U.S. Army. Just as racial integration in the Armed Forces was considered dangerous 50 years ago, integrating females into ground combat units seems crazy today. For sure, the debate will continue, and opponents will continue to fight it. However, they are running out of solid arguments as well as time.Didn't change my opinion one bit. I don't know why, I am generally more open-minded, and a big believer in common sense.
|# April 25th, 2005 12:19 PM james|
is your argument that women shouldn't be allowed in combat units because men might want to have sex with them? i think that's pretty weak.
no, not really. well, sort of. im saying that men and women tend to enter into romantic relationships, and it's a 2 way street. rules or not, it will happen, and it will ruffle feathers. feelings of jealousy and inadequancy are often overpowering. i don't think that this is a weak argument at all.
most people arguing on the other side of this take this opportunity to try to bait their opponent so they can come back with "oh, minimizing conflict? so then blacks shouldn't have been integrated b/c it minimizes conflict?"
that response misses the mark as this is a completely different thing. common law recognizes a "temporary insanity" defense to killing your spouse when you catch him/her cheating. jealously has long been recognized as being so overpowering that people can kill and not be held responsible for their actions. there is no such exception for race-based killings.
|# April 25th, 2005 12:41 PM kris|
|I understand your point, but that potential exists in every interaction between men & women. I'll agree that the consequences are more serious in the military, but I'd argue that the solution be a strict "non fraternization" policy rather than the underutilization of capable women. |
|# April 25th, 2005 12:53 PM james|
|1) as i already said, i dont think that a policy will do squat to head off the problem. zero. nothing. so if i can prove that, will you switch sides?
2) define "underutilization of capable women" for me. are men that can lift 200 lbs and are assigned to tasks that dont require that strength being "under utilized?" are soldiers that are assigned to desk work being "under utilized" b/c they might have another skill as well? maybe we should give everyone cooking tests to assure that we get the best cooks in the kitchen. that way we wont be "under utilizing" anyone.
more importantly, seriously, what % of women in the army do you think can meet the minimum physical requirements that men can? what is it, like 5% maybe? is that really "under utilization?"
finally, lets say that there is a requirement that a person bench-press 150 to be on the front lines. 150 is the absolute minimum, and it's probably true that most men can lift much more than that. you have very few soldiers at the "minimum." so lets say that the average is 220. those that are at the minimum are always encouraged to improve, to do better. now enter women, most of whom, owe to physiological differences, can only attain the minimum if they are at their peak performance. this brings the overall average down from 220 to maybe, oh, lets say 170. the overall group is weaker. there are fewer soldiers in the group capable of doing the heavy lifting. it takes more soldiers to complete tasks. etc.
it's one thing to have a small guy in a unit that represents the bottom end of a bell curve distribution. it's quite another to let half of the unit subsist at this basement level, making it the fat juicy part, the average, of the bell curve.
|# April 25th, 2005 1:00 PM kris|
|Think of it like this: drunk driving is bad. The consquences of people doing it are severe. So why don't we just ban alcohol so that people aren't tempted to drive drunk? Of course we don't do that-we just punish those who do drive drunk. Likewise in this situation.
I think that a VERY small percentage of women would end up in combat units (I'd say even less than 5%) because a) few could meet the physical requirements and b) few would want to. But, think about how kickass those women would be. She would have to be the type of person that's willing to push themselves to the limit and excel. She'd be exactly who we'd want in a combat situation.
The one argument I might consider, which I don't think you made, is that men are naturally going to feel more of a need to protect women in their unit. You can enforce a policy to keep people from sleeping together, but you can't create one to combat that type of feeling.
All of this said, do you agree that women should have to register for the draft? It seems that in today's military there are TONS of non-combat positions that could just as easily be filled by women as men.
|# April 25th, 2005 1:14 PM james|
|your hypo missed my point, perhaps even underscored it a bit.
1) we don't have special laws recognizing that drunk drivers are justified in drunk driving. we do have special laws recognizing that jealousy and rage can be so great that sometimes you can kill someone in cold blood and you arent culpable. it's completely different. for over 500 years, the law has recognized that emotion related to love and lust causes people to act in a way over which they have no control.
2) that said, a good defense to many actions is that you're a drug addict or an alcoholic. the idea then is that you couldnt help yourself, that you didnt have control, so you arent culpable for your actions. this is especially true in professional responsibility hearings in law and medicine - for instance, if you steal your clients' money, you'll get disbarred, but if you blame a drug addiction, you get a free pass.
so, if it was the case that alcohol caused some men in the unit to behave in a way over which they had no control, i'd fully support banning alcohol from combat situations. no question.
i don't think women should have to register for the draft, no. i also open doors for women and don't think that they should have to pay on dates. so what?
|# April 25th, 2005 1:18 PM kris|
|well, your chivalry is appreciated |
|# April 27th, 2005 1:01 PM pKai|
Whether one has - something hangin' - or not plays no bearing on one's ability to fight.....
Bring back the draft and draft males and females alike....
A couple of years of mandatory military service either after high school or college will do wonders for this country.....
Allow no deferments except to go to college and be drafted immediately afterwards and allow no exclusions except for proven physical or mental disability.
This country is going to hell in a handbasket since military service became the exception for most rather than the rule. Most of the "idiot liberals" of today would not be so naive if they had been subjected to a good dose of "how the world really works" in their youth.
|# April 27th, 2005 1:33 PM Laura|
|The last thing the military wants is the draft. Colin Powell's autobiography makes a very strong case against it; brings the overall readiness level way down, etc.
A democrat has some legislation written up for a draft of two year service for men and women, a choice of military or civil service. I don't think it will go anywhere though. I think voluntary military service is something parents ought to encourage, but I'm still on the fence as far as women in actual combat, unless it is something where body type has no bearing whatsoever, or smaller bodies are actually *better* like flying a plane or driving a tank.
|# May 17th, 2005 7:51 PM Maggy|
|As an US Army soldier station in Iraq and also a former veteran for the Gulf War, Somalia, and Bosnia; on all these conflicts I was assigned to a Combat Support Unit and because of my MOS sometimes my team and I were caught in some hard places. I find it offensive and insulting to say that we as women and as soldiers we cannot perform our jobs because of our gender. I can honestly say that here in Iraq, you are in the front lines everyday, no matter where you are located, as a US soldier, you still run the chance of getting killed or injured because insurgents and IED’s don’t care what gender you are this cannot be avoided, it just is a fact of life out here, something you come to accept. All I ask is to let us do our job, which as women we have performed exceptionally well under stressful situations specially in the battle field, which over here it can be anywhere and to support all our troops that are over here, men and women alike, we are all doing the job that is required of us. We Are Soldiers First, Because We Chose To Be!!!! |
|# May 17th, 2005 8:28 PM james|
|Thank you for your service, Maggy.
But honestly, your saying "we are soldiers because we choose to be" is a bit like women in the WNBA saying "we are basketball players because we choose to be!" Yeah, you're a basketball player, but it's in the WNBA. and if there was no WNBA, you wouldn't make it into the NBA based on physical talent.
|# June 1st, 2005 7:51 AM jmar06|
|I am a high school Student and we are do a debate unit about this topic of whether women should be allowed in combat or not and we must take on different personas as far as our opinion on the subject. I am totally for women in combat however I was pushed to be Pro-war and anti- women in combat so I'm asking after being so into this subject and being so for this how can I get into the persona of a 62y/o Vietnam vet who is anti- women in combat or where can i find good articles about this contraversal subject.
|# June 1st, 2005 9:26 AM BrianH|
I can't point you to any good articles, you'll have to do some google searches for that.
There are only a few good reasons to keep women out of combat units that I can think of (I'm not saying I believe this, just that it's an argument to keep women out):
1. Tradition. You may not think this is a good reason, but your 62 yo Vet probably would. We live in a society which stereotypes women as being nurturing and men as being tough. It's men's jobs to protect women from the horrors of war and women wouldn't be psychologically able to be ruthless killers.
2. Physical abilities. On average, women are physically smaller and weaker than men. Combat requires a great deal of physical exertion. Long hours carrying heavy packs of equipment through difficult terrain. This is probably your best argument against women in combat roles. A combat unit is only as strong as its weakest member. Someone who's not able to do the job being put into a unit will get someone killed.
3. Difficult privacy issues. I think people would get over this quickly in combat, but it might make a man or woman uncomfortable to use a trench latrine or bathe in front of the opposite sex.
4. Concerns about rape. This is an additional issue that male soldiers don't usually have to deal with.
5. Concerns about relationships between soldiers causing problems within a company. Typical boyfriend, girlfriend, new boyfriend kind of stuff that you deal with at school. This can be delt with easily in non-combat areas, but in combat, the new boyfriend just might end up a "friendly fire" victim or get set up to be killed by the old boyfriend. (A biblical story that describes this sort behavior is David's betrayal of Uriah in 2 Samuel chapter 11.) None of this is good in a combat situation.
My feeling is that women are being trained in combat and combat support possitions. The rest of the army depends on them to do the job they were trained to do. If they aren't allowed to do that job because it might place them in combat, the whole army suffers.
|# June 1st, 2005 10:37 AM Laura|
|If you need arguments against, try the Center for Military Readiness. |