24 January 2013


by Andy Weddington
Thursday, 24 January 2013

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." Aristotle

Of all living things, humans alone are pompous and dumb enough to believe Mother Nature defiable.

Our ability to think - blessing and curse.

The President of the United States can mandate; Secretary of Defense direct (today's news, complying with the president, lifting exclusions as to women in ground combat specialities); Service Secretaries set policy; generals and admirals order; unit commanders comply and reward and discipline and punish and so and so forth but it matters not.

Never mind strengths and weaknesses; gender differences - inequalities as gifted by nature; and obvious physical, psychological, cultural, and practical logical arguments opposing women in ground combat, the American way. Those arguments have failed. Why? See opening sentence.

Men do not act nor bond the same with a woman around. She will never be 'one of the guys.' Nor do women act and bond the same with a man around. He will never be 'one of the girls.' So goes the natural order of things. It is what it is.

Not to marginalize the sobering sacrifices - deaths and injuries - of our men and women in uniform, but the matter goes to cohesion and readiness and effectiveness and efficieny; to the greatest extent possible in the name of America's national security. Or so it should.  

My wife is a senior naval line officer. If anyone is more serious and outspoken about fair and equal treatment and opportunity, and concerned about the sexual harassment of and assault on women in uniform, and intolerant of breaches thereof, than me then I've not met them.

Last spring, before deployment to an imminent danger zone, my wife (of average female height and weight, physically fit and strong) was required to complete three weeks of rigorous basic (and I mean basic) ground combat (defensive) familiarization training. That training included personal and crew-served weapons handling and firing, elementary defensive measures, sundry immediate actions drills, and more. It did not include living in the field, heavy lifting, nor grueling foot marches under combat load.

I saw and spoke with her after the second week of training. She, in her 50s and training alongside women (and men) half her age, tired and badly bruised concluded ground combat units is no place for women (and some men). And that was after barely a teensy weensy taste of the rigors, and void of the necessity for unit cohesion to go and fight. 

The amber caution light flashed more than twenty years ago. A wise warrior of sound mind, General Robert H. Barrow, USMC, 27th Commandant - an infantryman, a decorated combat veteran who commanded in three wars - opined under oath before the Senate Armed Services Committee about women in ground combat. Not sexist, he spoke at length about cohesion. He was eloquent, passionate, thorough and compelling - from brain and heart; a balance. His remarks as germane today. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy--whDNNKk 

So why should we care what Aristotle, another wise guy of sound mind, thought? What did he know!

And the same goes for General Barrow.

Today, flashing yellow yields to flashing red. Emergency!

Not that it matters one damn bit, but here it is straight, though from a not-so-wise guy, a Marine infantryman, of questionable sanity, "Danger! Danger! Danger! Curves Ahead."

Who will have the last word?

No president, secretary, general nor admiral, colonel nor captain nor lieutenant - no man nor woman.

By law, that dictum belongs to Mother Nature - without so much as a whisper and she won't think about it. Her 'decision' predictable. Inevitable.

But to what extent the human toll?

Think about it.


Carol Mutter said...

Sec Panetta’s elimination of the Ground Combat Exclusion for women does NOT mean that women will be in front line infantry units any time soon. In fact, it may still never happen. One of the best things it DOES for our commanders is eliminate the need for them to find ways (from semantics to temporary details) to use the women where and how they need to. And also to ensure they get the right training and equipment to do the job. I was appalled to hear one female state on TV that she was not issued SAPI plates because she couldn’t be “in combat”, but she was still going out on convoys. Fortunately she was able to borrow some from fellow soldiers who weren’t going out that day. Women work with male combat units during the day but frequently have to be transported back and forth daily on dangerous roads so they can be in “safe” non combat camps at night. Women are performing admirably and providing a very necessary part of the mission in a part of the world where men are not allowed to search women or even go into their homes to talk to them. Women are already in combat. To quote Sherry deVries, President, AND: “Nothing is different, but nothing will ever be the same.”
Yes, gender matters. But leadership is more important and can ensure the members of their unit are focused on the mission and not on each other.
I appears to me that DoD and the services are going to do this right by defining physical (and other) standards for every MOS. When a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine meets this standard, he/she is eligible to serve in that MOS. There are some MOSs and assignments in which some men can’t perform either. This is very much an individual thing, not a gender thing. Expanding roles for women will continue to be an evolutionary (vs. revolutionary) process. And will be focused on improving the ability of the services to accomplish their missions.

Anonymous said...

"Exposure to danger is not combat. It's a lot more than that. It's not getting shot at or being killed by being shot at." The ignored and unintended consequences for mixing men and women in infantry units will be telling. Defining physical standards? The problem here is we already have MOSs wherein the standards have been either reduced the lowest common denominator (women) or a one person task magically becomes a two person task. Good luck with that. And...glad to be retired.