Today, it was announced, the Obama Administration will open combat roles in our most elite combat units to women members of the Armed forces. This is a terrible case of political correctness run amok!
As a former member of a Special Forces Operational Detachment “A” (known as an “A-Team”) I know a fair amount about what it takes to be a combat infantryman. So on this subject, I speak with some authority.
So why do I think Leon Panetta and (ultimately) the Pentagon brass have surrendered common sense to the pressures of political correctness? Because, simply put, women in general just can’t hack it.
Not that women can’t handle the incredible emotional stress of combat: some can. Nor am I saying that a woman can’t pull a trigger or launch a rocket with as much accuracy as her male counterparts: again, some can. Some women will, if allowed the opportunity, be able to “make the grade” and stand beside their male comrades. Some.
What most women cannot do is carry their own weight. That is to say, the weight of the required equipment EVERY combat infantryman must be able to “hump”.
Consider: Back in the day, I carried 100lbs rucksack full of gear on my back; humping through swamps and over mountains. Within that ruck was all the gear necessary to sustain me “in the field”; in or out of combat. It included food, ammo, batteries for our team radio (which every man had to carry), extra belts of 7.62 ammo for our team M-60 machinegun, medical supplies, and extra clothing and sleep gear that prevented freezing to death at night.
None of that could be dispensed with. It was vital to any mission that every team member be able to “hump his ruck”.
I was in VERY good condition. I could hump that weight every day, from dawn to dusk if necessary, at a 25 miles-a-day pace if needed (and did so on more than one occasion). At times that ruck nearly killed me. It weighed heavily on my shoulders, digging in and cutting off circulation to my arms. It caused every muscle in my body to lock-up at times, my body screaming in rebellion at the physical abuse I was demanding it endure.
And that ruck wasn’t all the weight that I carried. I still had carry my weapon (9 lbs), bladders of water (about 15 lbs), extra ammo in belt pouches (5 lbs?), flashlights, entrenching tool, K-bar knife, etc (all about another 10 lbs), and at times a helmet (3-4 lbs).
All together, I carried about 135 lbs of gear. At 195 lbs back then, I had to hump nearly 70% of my own body weight.
Today, a modern combat infantryman carries all this plus another 33 additional pounds of body armor not worn in my day. That potentially bumps the combat infantryman’s load up to 168 lbs.
Most male soldiers find such a load beyond their capability. That is just one more reason most soldiers are not combat infantryman. The vast majority of men and women in the Army or Marine Corps are in support roles; where the physical requirements are much less demanding. That is not to say that they, too, don’t have to be in very good condition. But as most of their equipment is carried by Humvees or trucks, they don’t have to be able to carry the heavy rucksack of the combat infantryman.
The fact is indisputable: while women can be terrific athletes, and some can train their bodies to do what I could never do (even “back in the day”); they cannot escape one relentless fact: women are smaller, lighter, and even at their strongest not as strong as men.
This is evidenced by professional and collegiate sports: In none do women compete with men. Not in basketball, football, soccer, tennis, not even golf! The best female athletes cannot compete with their male counterparts. They must compete in their own leagues against each other to have a fair chance.
Why do we pretend that this fact would not come into play when applied to women in combat units?
Consider the weight a combat infantry MUST carry: that 168 lbs load, carried by a 200 lbs male soldier, is 84% of his body weight. Pile that load onto a 130 lbs female soldier, and that is 130% of her body weight!
These are inescapable numbers.
Yet, as we have seen in other areas of the military (and in some civilian occupations), to allow women to compete the standards will be lowered or “normed” for women. Instead of having to train with a 65lbs ruck, female soldiers or Marines will be allowed to hump a lighter ruck. To get through training, or in the case of elite units such as the Navy SEALS or the Army Special Forces, when going through the Selection course (BUDS for the SEALS, “Q” course for the Green Berets) they will not have to perform at the same level as the male candidates.
The politicians and civilian leadership at the Pentagon know all this. So why are they pushing this lunatic proposal forward?
Because too many are committed to the idea of full equality of opportunity; in the abstract a laudable goal. Women soldiers and Marines are professionally hindered by not being allowed in combat units; as the military gives promotional preference to combat soldiers. Its all about pushing the careers of female soldiers, allowing them to “punch their ticket” in combat units, wither or not they can truly “make the grade”.
I have heard from friends still in Service that today, women are given “breaks” the male soldiers never enjoy. Such as transport back to the “rear” for showers after several days in the field; reduced Physical Training scores; and, of course, maternity leave when/if they become pregnant (on one recent West Pac deployment, on a Navy war ship half of the female crew members became pregnant during the deployment; the ship subsequently being dubbed “the Love Boat”). In combat, where political correctness can get someone killed, women who will be allowed to participate due to lowered requirements and standards risk not being able to pull their own weight; literally or figuratively. This will weaken the overall unit ability, jeopardizing the mission and putting lives at risk.
But today we are led by a civilian leadership, and particularly by a President with no personal military experience. They have never had to “hump a ruck”. Otherwise, they might understand that such proposals, while fashionable in Washington cocktail parties, have no place in the harsh reality of combat. (Though the current nominee for Secretary of Defense, Senator Chuck Hagel, is a Vietnam War veteran. It remains to be seen what his opinion of this proposal will be.)
Those making policy should be reminded that the American military does not exist as a petri dish for social experimentation. It exists to fight and to win wars. We have the best military in the world, and when the next war comes around (and it will come), we want still to have the best military in the world. Not the most socially equal; not the most politically enlightened. But the best fighting force in the world.
Because in war, there is no prize for placing second.
For a first hand look at what awaits women in modern combat units, read this from former Marine-now-attorney Ryan Smith.
For a supporting perspective from a female Marine, check this out:
“As a combat-experienced Marine officer, and a female, I am here to tell you that we are not all created equal, and attempting to place females in the infantry will not improve the Marine Corps as the Nation’s force-in-readiness or improve our national security.”