Tuesday, December 25, 2012


“Combat is a full-contact sport.”

That’s the sentiment of a late friend and coauthor, a two-war warrior who survived Korea on the ground and Vietnam in the air.  He was good for a five-minute rant when he saw the 1990s TV commercial of a female Soldier tapping on her battlefield laptop, “No enemy is going to get the best of my outfit!”

John was livid because, in his words, extremely few women can hack the program as genuine combat infantrymen.

Now here we are far downstream and we’re still flailing in sexual waters.  The Arizona Republic headlined on December 2:  “Marine Pioneers Push to Place Women in Combat.”  Meanwhile, the marines’ only two women who entered the 13-week infantry training course at Quantico, Virginia, both failed.  As of this month, no further females have applied.

However, in November four military females—two army and two marine—sued the secretary of defense regarding the law excluding women from combat units. 

Here’s a link:

The women claim that the “combat exclusion” clause is somehow unconstitutional.  Moreover, presumably the policy “sends a clear message to the world that women are not capable of serving their country to the same extent as men.”

Well, if we’re talking physical differences between the “genders” (“sex” has long since disappeared from military argot) the answer is OF COURSE THEY’RE NOT AS PHYSICALLY CAPABLE.  How many women can hump an 80-pound ruck plus weapon and ammo uphill all day?  Damn few men can do it.  But we have “gender norming” to help even the military playing field in favor of humans whom God or Nature selected as physically weaker than males.  Not even the United States Government can change that. 

The notion of some sort of DoD glass ceiling that prevents noncombatants from attaining high rank is, to put it delicately, batguano.  The pentagon is stuffed to the rafters with star wearers who've never been shot at anymore than I have.  (Though come to think on it, I was downrange of some idiot bird hunters who dusted me with No. 7 shot a time or three...)

The navy has been run by noncombatants for decades—submariners and surface officers.  The air force's mission has far less to do with air combat than with airlift so I don't hold that against the blue suits.  And I've seen photos of a "highly decorated female marine lieutenant general."  Yes, there are such things--she had more ribbons than Five-Star General Eisenhower (who was never shot at either.)  

For that matter, let’s check some other senior military leaders.

General of the Army George C. Marshal, WW II chief of staff.  Went to Europe in the Great War, serving as a staff planner.  No combat.

General of the Army Henry H. Arnold, chief of the Army Air Forces in WW II.  No combat.

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, chief of naval operations who ran the world’s biggest navy in WW II.  Observed some British operations in WW I.

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in WW II.  No combat.

Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey.  He saw Atlantic service in The Great War but no combat before WW II.

Clearly, combat experience is irrelevant to the highest echelons of the U.S. military.  Meanwhile, we’re left to ponder upon the reality of young American females in a field environment.

I’ m not going to delve into the psychological aspects of Women In Combat—Unit Cohesion and Male Bonding and Stuff.  Instead, we should focus on the more immediate concerns—what women are capable of doing physically.  Rather than default to the rhetorical level (“How many women can go a round with Mike Tyson?”) let’s look at some specific examples over the past 30 years.

This comes from Mark Morgan, a Washington National Guardsman from 1998 to 2002.  “There was a big uproar back when the Army proudly announced it was making its physical fitness/testing standards tougher in order to improve the health and stamina of the force...and then promptly raised the standards for those of us over 40, leaving the 20-30-somethings with the same semi-low standards. Needless to say, it didn't go over too well with us old(er) troops.”

Reportedly “Big Army” used to claim it had the same standards for men and women because the required running times were identical—for 18 year old females and 50-something males.

This comes from Ken Ferguson, a former commercial pilot:
“When I was at Fort Rucker during 1981 the obstacle course was ‘gender normed.’  There were little ladders for the use of small troopies to aid in getting over walls and such.  If that was too hard or too scary, they could just go around.  We all knew it was just a crock.”

Note that we are not trying to deny women access to the military profession.  Truth be told, we cannot maintain enough (excuse the term) manpower without females, who comprise about 15% of active and reserve component personnel.

Nor are we dissing some females’ ability to perform in ground combat.  There were at least two examples in Iraq when women dismounted from stalled vehicles and killed the enemy with rifle fire.  I know several women I’d feel completely comfortable watching my back in a gunfight.  No doubt some readers do, too.  But fighting is the least of it: in the infantry world, it’s about strength, stamina, and endurance.

Sexual politics is of course not limited to the military.  In the 1970s a San Francisco (where else?) judge ruled against a fire department's physical fitness test as Discriminatory.  The trainee who filed the complaint (one firefighter said she um bitched about it) could lift and carry 75 pounds so the judge said that was the new standard.  The chief replied, "We don't have any 75-pound firefighters."  Didn’t matter.  Wasn't Fair...

So: how about True Equality?  How about one physical standard for everyone, without Gender Norming?  Then those extremely few women who want to carry more than half their body weight uphill at 8,000 feet while getting shot at can do so, comfortable in the knowledge that like their male comrades, they can hack the program.