Giving women a chance be combatants.

Cfiles8175 "Their success, widely known in the military, remains largely hidden from public view. In part, this is because their most challenging work is often the result of a quiet circumvention of military policy.

Women are barred from joining combat branches like the infantry, armor, Special Forces and most field artillery units and from doing support jobs while living with those smaller units. Women can lead some male troops into combat as officers, but they cannot serve with them in battle.

Yet, over and over, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army commanders have resorted to bureaucratic trickery when they needed more soldiers for crucial jobs, like bomb disposal and intelligence. On paper, for instance, women have been “attached” to a combat unit rather than “assigned.”"  NY Times


Women in the infantry, Special Forces and armor?  Why not?  Can they do the job physically?  Learning that is what P.T. tests are about.  They can either pass the same tests or they can not.  That is easy to find out.  Some people think that women will not be as good at fighting and killing as men.  I think that is a laughable idea, but, once again, the answer to that question is readily available in the wars the US is now fighting.

If women want to put up with living in the field with a lot of very basic men under conditions of constant and close association, conditions in which it is impossible to give them any sort of privacy, and it is often impossible to keep clean for extended periods of time, then they should be allowed to do so.

There is just no accounting for taste.  I miss the Army, but, then…  pl


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29 Responses to Giving women a chance be combatants.

  1. John Bennett says:

    History tells us that a small number of women served in the Union Army during the Civil War, passing as men but also recognized and respected by their male colleagues. That was one tough war and yet they stuck it out.
    If they want to serve, why not?

  2. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Are you people mad?
    Have you taken complete leave of your senses?
    There were examples of women in combat in WWII; Russian female soldiers that once captured, were ganged raped by the Axis soldiers and shot in the morning.
    Is this what you are willing to stomach on a large scale, year after year?
    And consider also the metaphysical certainty of the female POWs whom the enemy can and will use to break the male POWs.
    And these young wombs will be controlled by the enemy – and there is nothing that can be done about that.
    Have you now entered such a private late Western fantasy world that you cannot comprehend the thin ice over which you are walking?

  3. Dave of Maryland says:

    Women are already in combat roles, at least, judging by the wounds they bear.
    About six months after our stupid invasion I read a story of a young woman wounded in combat. She had lost both legs just below the groin from an early IED. She got around by means of a wheeled platform. Chasing behind were her two toddlers. “Mommie! Mommie!”
    Women have different roles to play. It’s genetic. Bad enough that men get torn apart in war. (And we are fighting for what reason, exactly? Why not just make them gladiators? Duel to the death in front of cheering masses. At least they’d know what they were in for.)
    Yeah! Gimme the big busty babes in tight-fitting, ripped-to-pieces shirt & short-shorts, sporting six inch heels & Uzis. Like I used to see, swastika-adorned, in my daddy’s old men’s magazines.

  4. Patrick Lang says:

    “Are you people mad?” Yes, we are mad. Is that not obvious? pl

  5. Ole Sanvig says:

    Women serve in all branches of the Danish Army – also in real life conditions in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
    We’ve got a women flying F-16’s in combat. Flying choppers too.
    If they pass the test same physical test as anyone else, they can serve in the Danish Special Forces (Jægerkorpset & Frømandskorpset) as well.
    No problem, no issue.

  6. Fred says:

    How quickly we forget the Bush administration’s media campaign surrounding Pvt. Jessica Lynch. “Iraq has advanced the cause of full integration for women in the Army by leaps and bounds,” said Peter R. Mansoor, a retired Army colonel…” I beieve these results have moreto do with the refusal of Bush&Cheney to follow the professional recommendations for more troops in the initial invastion of Iraq from the Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki, than with any specific objective of proving the abilities of women in combat units.
    Babak, as the article quotes: “They face sexual discrimination and rape, and counselors and rape kits are now common in war zones” This is from their fellow citizens. Rape also occurs in the US and in non-combat zones. Hopefully one would also recognize that males are raped as well, and not just as POW’s.

  7. Green Zone Cafe says:

    A few years ago I was waiting at a gate in Iraq for someone to arrive so I could sign them in.
    While I was waiting, I was talking to a soldier at the gate about Iraq and how it was going for him and his unit. He said, “What they need to do is get these women in the Army out of here.”
    I asked him why, expecting him to say the usual complaints of many in the military that women weren’t physically capable, got pregnant, caused sexual discontent in a unit, etc.
    He didn’t say any of that, he said, “They’re straight-out killers . ” and listed a few incidents in which women in the turrents of HMMWVs over-reacted to a perceived threat, opened fire and ended up killing innocent Iraqi civilians. He thought that trigger-happy women was one reason the war wasn’t going well.
    I thought that was interesting, but it’s one of those things on which a study will never be done, so it’s just that one soldier’s view.
    Certainly women in the Army were never as bad as Blackwater as far as brutal indifference to Iraqi life goes.
    My observation is that women do as well as men in Iraq, but then I’ve never been at the tip of the spear in infantry, MP, or other units out patrolling.

  8. nightsticker says:

    Colonel Lang,
    Some years ago,now Senator Webb of VA said the best and last word on the subject – [this is from memory but captures the thought]”One woman in 10,000 is qualified to lead Marines in combat. That woman would be of course a freak. As long as I am Secretary of the Navy, we will not commission freaks”.Extending the thought just slightly – “any woman that wants to serve in a combat unit is a freak and we shouldn’t turn the military into a freak show”.
    USMC 1965-1972
    FBI 1972-1996

  9. par4 says:

    Babak look at our ‘townhalls’ the U.S. is over run with lunatics.

  10. Dick says:

    It is something I’ve never quite able been to accept. There is enough of a need in the armed forces for able-bodied and intelligent people of each gender (and even the third – Homo/TranSexual – sexual preference is irrelevant when performing a job) that precludes having to fill the ranks of the combat units with women. If there aren’t enough men to fill the combat ranks, then let’s do hardcore (i.e. agressive) recruiting or whatever (dare I say the Draft). BUT – never put women in a position of: 1)compromising the concentration of a man in a foxhole (it’s Hell enough) 2)giving the enemy a female POW, and all that entails 3)kids, in most cases, need their Moms more than their Dads for their younger growth years 4)combat is insane enough without including another half of the population in it.
    Besides, the question at this point should be: should we even put them in the ranks of the vulnerable MOS’s: convoy drivers, combat zone MP’s, etc. Sure, there are plenty of capable women out there to fill a combat role, and I mean both physically and mentally (though the mental resilience is never known until one actually goes through it). But are we that desperate to fill the ranks, especially at Level I – the “volunteer” military? If we are that desperate, then this country doesn’t deserve to exist as the worlds’ moral leader that it has been.

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    I should confess that I do not support the idea of women soldiers in the infantry or SF. I never did.
    I wanted to see your reaction to the idea. I would agree with Webb that there are not many women who could successfully lead troops in ground combat at the tactical level. It is one thing for an MP sergeant or an Engineer captain to react properly in an ambush situation. It is a very different thing to be in charge of units like this day after day under the immense stress of combat. Don’t tell me that there aren’t going to be any more wars like that. My mother told me that in the late ’50s. She was sure that nuclear weapons and airplanes had made ground forces obsolete. Look at what is going on in Helmand Province for example.
    I do not buy the argument about women’s flesh being more sacred and precious than men’s flesh. As for rape, well, if women want to be soldiers they are accepting the risk of that.

  12. Allen Thomson says:

    > Women are barred from joining combat branches like the infantry, armor, Special Forces and most field artillery units and from doing support jobs while living with those smaller units.
    I ask because I don’t know, but is there any disagreement that women can serve as killers in other positions, such as bomber and fighter pilots, naval officers on ships and submarines, ICBM launch control facilities, etc.?

  13. steve says:

    I teach composition/argument at a small community college in Iowa.
    The course text has a few essays debating the pro’s and con’s of women serving in combat units. This issue is in the text in order to prompt debate.
    I have had active and inactive military as well as national guard personnel in my classes.
    Among my military students, there is no debate–to a man (or I should say to a woman as well) my guard, army, naval, and marine students have universally said that they would be honored to serve in combat alongside a woman.
    This is rural Iowa. Take that for what you will, but the students have the same responses about gays serving in the military.
    Times have changed, and they not only don’t care about such things, they can’t even imagine why such is considered debatable by the textbook publishers.

  14. Stormcrow says:

    “Are you people mad?” Yes, we are mad. Is that not obvious? pl

    Yeah, I read forward and noted that it’s an idea you really don’t support.
    As for me – well, yeah, it is insane. We have a place for people who are that sort of crazy. We call it “the Army”.

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    What part of Iowa are you in? The only Army activity in the state is the ammunition plant down in the SE. That is run by a commercial company and is therefore manned by civilian employees of that company. There are probably a few Army people there but only a very few. There are also a few recruiters, ROTC instructors and active army instructor/inspectors with the 17,990 peopl in the Iowa National Guard. The number of active (regular)military people in the state is less than 500. So, I am reluctantly brought to the conclusion that you must be “gilding the lily” a bit when you imply that you have more that a very small number of active duty military people in your English classes.
    Have you ever been in the military, specifically in the grund combat forces, i.e., infantry, artillery, armor or SF?
    How many people among your “military” students have any experience of ground combat at the tactical level where the real fighting and killing takes place. Don’t even try to tell me that “times have changed” in war. It will make you sound as ignorant as my mother did sixty years ago. Society may have changed but war from the point of view of the infantry never changes. Their job is to “close with the enemy and destroy him using fire and maneuver and close combat.” That never changes. Only the tools change.
    The military is not a jobs program. Neither is it a “platform” for social engineering. It is in fact a very specialized activity involved in the security of society, and unlike the police this is an activity authorised to kill and destroy as a normal part of its activity. If your image of a modern combat soldier is a combination of “neighborhood organiser” and civilian policeman you are sadly mistaken.
    Lastly, Bill Cosby used to have a routine in which he described himself as he had been in college. He said (wisely) that young men will say or do anything necessary to gain favor with young women. The punch line was “I LOVE Mo-zart.”
    Bottom line: I think it is a foolish idea to have women in the infantry, armor, gun artillery or SF.
    Nevertheless, I think that since people want to experiment with this notion it should be tried in Afghanistan. There will be sustained and heavy combat there. The Afghans are a fighting people. The fighting in towns in Helmand is indicative. Let the Army and US Marines form some company sized units made up of theose who wish to volunteer for the experiment. The units should be mostly men but with significant numbers of women soldiers. Especially necessary would be assignment of women sergeant squad leaders and women lieutenant rifle platoon leaders. Commit such units to action as part of existing battalion combat task forces and let us see what the results are.
    Lastly, I would caution you not to allow your enthusiam for social “progress” to influence your advocacy. pl

  16. Whatever the combat role trying running the “volunteer” armed forces of the US today without women! If brains are in short supply think what the future will be with enlisted ranks being filled by pale faced gamers that rarely left their machines to step outside for any reason. The physical fitness of the under 20’s is now at an all-time low and guessing the PT tests will continue to be degraded to keep enough in uniform. But hey could be wrong.

  17. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Let the Army and US Marines form some company sized units made up of theose who wish to volunteer for the experiment. The units should be mostly men but with significant numbers of women soldiers. Especially necessary would be assignment of women sergeant squad leaders and women lieutenant rifle platoon leaders. Commit such units to action as part of existing battalion combat task forces and let us see what the results are.
    Hmmm, I think we all know how well that call for volunteers will work out.
    Won’t happen.
    When I first read Senator Webb’s essay here at SST, my immediate thought turned to the Russians during WWII – as someone else has pointed out here. Women can, and will, fight.
    But that’s not really the issue. The question is how existing male combat soldiers respond to women in the ranks.
    As a culture, we will view these discussions much the same way we view the arguments about racial integration 50 odd years ago, when I’m sure people were talking about unit cohesion and effectiveness just as passionately.
    Society changes, and the military will ultimately reflect that society over time as it gets dragged along.
    But we need to let that process evolve at its own pace without running “experiments” in combat zones!

  18. Patrick Lang says:

    We experiment in war zones all the time. What better place to do it? Experimental results anywhere else are just BS intended to bolster somebody’s pet “hobby horse.”.
    This is not about “unit cohesion.” It is about whether or not the “grunts” will accept female “grunts.” They will be ordered to do so? What a joke!!
    When I was 22, I was given command of 45 guys very like the “cave men” in the Geico commercials. We just made them cut their hair and shave. They were armed to the teeth, “dressed to kill.” I always understood that in a real sense I was always running for re-election. Bang. Bang.
    Enough with the bogus comparison to integration of blacks. The black soldiers were men.
    Oh, yes, the Soviets were very good about handing out medals to women as propaganda. The Israelis have never really used women in combat. Ask them. pl

  19. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear Colonel,
    As long as they don’t lower the standards for women in combat specialties I don’t have a problem. In my experience I think there are very few women who’d qualify minimally as tankers as long as they have loaders on MBTs. I wouldn’t speak for infantry but given the combat load requirements today (personal body armor, NVGs etc), I would suspect there are far fewer who’d qualify for the branch. Essentially the way I view the matter is, do we want women in combat arms branches who can barely meet the minimum physical standards for the sake of creating opportunities (let’s face it, promotions are quicker in combat arms). As the Army (and USMC) is a social institution, they will face additional scrutiny. That’s just human nature as you cannot order away skepticism among the ranks no matter what our intentions are. Decades ago, we had KATUSAs who back then were much smaller physically than an average American tanker among 2ID tank crews (We still have them, but they are significantly bigger today than their predecessors). Since they were almost always loaders, there were a lot of grumblings among tank commanders in 1/72 AR who were always looking to shave off fractions of second from gunnery reaction time. And I am sure they were significantly stronger and faster than an above average female soldier in the Army today. And M829s and M830 rounds are heavier today than M774s back in the 1970s not to mention a good loader would have to be able to reload while on the move.

  20. YT says:

    Re: “the big busty babes in tight-fitting, ripped-to-pieces shirt & short-shorts, sporting six inch heels & Uzis.”
    Oh, I’d enlist IMMEDIATELY if I could serve with dolls like that. Imagine, adorned with swastikas as well…

  21. graywolf says:

    Finally I agree with you.
    My brother was an instructor at West Point in the 70’s when the first female cadets were admitted.
    He was NOT impressed.
    Said that physical standards and training were lowered to accomodate the females.
    Will an enemy lower their fighting level to accomodate female GI’s?

  22. Mark Logan says:

    Check out the documentary
    “Lionesses” for a theory as to a trigger for this craziness.
    In a nutshell:
    Back in 04 we started searching Iraqi women for bombs. This had to be done
    by female personel. The Army dragged up every female
    they could, from all sorts of MOS’s, for the task. Welcome to urban the urban combat environment, ladies. The documentary shows both what they had to do, kill, and the effects upon them. They were unprepared. I guess somebody decided that was the problem…
    What a mess.

  23. steve says:

    Col. Lang–
    I teach in Mason City Iowa, both on campus and online at North Iowa Area Community College.
    Perhaps I was “gilding the lily” in my reference to active duty. However, I have had three students in the US Marine Corps who took 6 weeks out of the semester to serve on a naval vessel off the coast of Korea. Two of them had previously served in Iraq in some capacity prior to the start of the semester. Were they active duty? Did they have some type of leave? I really don’t know.
    And I have had at least 20 guard members who have done tours in Iraq over the past few years.
    And yes, some were in combat and at least 1 had been wounded.
    I give no opinion on the merits of gays in the military nor females in combat, nor do I do so in class.
    I critique every opinion which is my job.
    I merely reported the opinions of my students.

  24. Hmmmm, I think we’re in violent agreement and my points just aren’t clear.
    If women can do the job, then allow it to happen organically is all I’m saying. And I’m predicting it will happen over time as our society becomes more accustomed to women in leadership roles. I’m only 45, yet I have more in common with my elders than I do with 20 somethings. And those 20 somethings will be running the forces in a couple of decades. I am *predicting* that we’ll look back to these years much how we look back towards integrating the forces.
    I’ll also echo some of my fellow SSTers. First, don’t lower the standards. And second, how many women really want to be in a unit like you commanded in your early 20s?
    I’m all for experimenting in the field when a tangible benefit may result. What exactly is the tangible benefit of running the experiment you describe? None as far as I can tell.
    My first question is always “will it work?” And my second question is always “is there a benefit to using it?”
    And if either answer is no, then move on.

  25. Ael says:

    The Canadians have a fully integrated military. I have heard no complaints about Canadian women soldiers in Kandahar. I have likewise heard no complaints about Canada’s overall military performance in Kandahar.

  26. Patrick Lang says:

    How many women riflemen do they have? pl

  27. Ian says:

    About 15% of Canadian Forces personnel are women. That number is quite a bit smaller in combat arms, but not insignificant. 1.9% of personnel serving in combat arms are female, including 3.75% of officers in those units. Female casualties seem to be proportionate to those numbers, 2-3% of our dead.
    So, infantry which are 2% female have been performing quite well in combat in Afghanistan.
    Why only 2%? Apparently relatively few women want to sign up for the infantry, but it’s a high enough percentage that it would be strange to call these soldiers “freaks.”
    If you want to argue that women should not be allowed to serve in combat roles in the American army, you need to make a case that the Canadian situation is significantly different, or that Canadian forces in Afghanistan have performed poorly. Sex jokes are not an argument.

  28. Carl O. says:

    I served with women in the Air Force in the 1980’s and would never question that they have the same commitment to serve as any man.
    That said, I can’t escape the notion that there’s something barbaric about sending women to kill and die in wars.

  29. Sam Earp says:

    My security person, Camp Taji, pre-surge (it was pretty bad), was a female who had just been med-boarded out after a tour with an intel MOS in Anbar. She carried a SAW on patrol, every day, blew out her back and the tendons in her chest, hence civilian status. She killed bad guys. She protected her buddies. She slept in the open. She ate MRES. She was a combat soldier.
    For what it is worth, she was a fine soldier and demonstrated her worth on the battlefield every day, just like the folks with a combat arms MOS.
    She didn’t quality for the CAB, naturally. WTF? 360 degree war, all females outside the wire may see combat and had better be trained and ready for it.
    This false dichotomy between “combat arms” and certain support jobs often done by women just perpetuates an injustice, IMO. You see combat, you are a combat soldier.
    Stop with the condescension, already.

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