Women in Combat Could Blunt ‘Tip of the Spear’
CBN News Anchor and Producer
Monday, February 25, 2013
As the Pentagon pushes forward with plans to fully integrate women in military combat units, many are considering the move a victory for equal rights.
Still, others argue it will hurt our nation’s ability to fight and win the next war.
Women currently make up 14 percent of our military. They’ve served across the board except in infantry, armor, and special operations units, like the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Green Berets.
“Everyone, men and women alike, everyone is committed to doing the job,” outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in announcing the policy change. “They’re fighting and they’re dying together and the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality.”
That means more than 230,000 positions could soon be open for women.
Former Army Capt. Tanya Dami applauded the decision.
“With this momentous shift, America once again reaffirms its core values of equality and respect, values predicated upon a person’s capabilities and demonstrated competence, not an immutable characteristic like gender,” she wrote. “This is good for our military, and our country, too.”
Pentagon’s Double Standards
Ret. Gen. Jerry Boykin couldn’t disagree more. A former commander of Special Operations, he is also one of the founding members of the Army’s famed Delta Force.
Boykin acknowledges that women have served bravely under fire. But those situations have largely been in support roles, not offensive operations. They have not served in units trained and equipped to pursue, engage, and destroy a hostile force.
“A female that can run a marathon does not necessarily translate into a female who can drag a man, let’s just say an average man of 175 pounds, with all of his combat gear,” he said. “It is not the average female that will be able to do that. So it’s a readiness issue and no one is considering readiness.”
The Army’s physical fitness standards are currently different for men and women. For example, a 22-year-old male soldier is required to do at least 40 pushups. A 22-year-old female soldier is required to do only 17.
The Pentagon now says that women serving in direct combat units will have to meet the same standards as men.
But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey offered one big caveat.
“If we do decide a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the Secretary, why is it that high?” he said. “Does it really have to be that high? With the direct combat exclusion in place, we never had to have that conversation.”
“I don’t know if that bothers you the way it does me, but that’s frightening,” Boykin said in response. “And what that really is saying is if women can’t meet the standards, we will lower those standards.”
Band of Brothers
Boykin said he believes that will have life and death consequences. A soldier needs to know the soldier next to him will get him off the battlefield if he’s wounded.
“That’s why we give medals of honor. And if you look at who gets a Medal of Honor, it’s normally because he was trying to save a buddy,” he said.
The HBO series “Band of Brothers” depicts the rigors and horror of close quarters combat in WWII. Seventy years later it hasn’t changed.
The series highlights the one aspect of warfare that another retired general believes the Pentagon is ignoring in allowing women on the front lines.
“One of the things that neither I nor anyone else in the military really understands is the so-called ‘band of brothers’ effect,” Ret. Maj. Gen. Robert Scales said. “It’s the buddy-teaming which makes up the essence of cohesion in small units.”
“Remember, the American soldier doesn’t really die for his country, and he doesn’t die for the mission. He dies for his buddies,” he said.
Those small units are better known as squads made up of anywhere between nine and 13 soldiers or Marines. They’re the “tip of the spear” on the battlefied.
Scales said he believes the Pentagon owes it to them to perform an objective study on the effects of lifting the ban.
“Units that are thrown together or who have bad psychology or that are poorly led, tend to die in hugely disproportionate numbers,” Scales explained. “So increasingly the weight of these wars is falling on the shoulders of this very, very small band of brothers and before we break it up and re-assemble it, we better be darn well sure that we’re doing the right thing.”
Not all women agree with the plan either. One former army captain and West Point graduate, who asked CBN News to protect her identity, is an airborne-qualified combat engineer who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
She said at one time she wanted to serve in a front-line unit. But she changed her mind because of the wear and tear her body took during five years of active duty.
“I guess I was naive to think I would be invincible forever, but right now I have two small children and my quality of life has degraded because you can only hold them for so long because your back hurts and you need to put them down,” she said. “You know, it changes the way I’m able to live.”
So what does it say about nation that allows its women to do its fighting for it?
“Right now Congress is working on legislation to protect women from violence and domestic violence and then on the other hand we’re turning around and saying to women, ‘Fix bayonets, and charge that group of men over there, most of which are stronger than you, bigger than you and capable of killing you,'” Boykin said.
“It is inconsistent with our ethos,” he added. “I think the Bible is very clear that we’re the stronger sex and we have a moral obligation to protect our women.”