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-SF in PhilipinnesTeam”) 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?

us-army-soldier[1]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.”



  1. To preface my response, I must state that I have my own grievences about placing women in infantry units. My grievences have nothing to do with a woman’s ability to match her male conterpart, but, instead have to do with my chivalrous disdain for placing a woman into a violent situation. However, in the end, if a woman wants to carry a rifle, carry her weight and prove herself worthy to fight at the tip of the sword, that is her choice and her burden to prove.
    As to the rest of the article, I must say that much has changed since your days in the Army during the Cold War. Back then, the average infantryman had to carry a shitload of weight, in food, gear and ammo, because he had to survive in the field, without resupply, for many days, maybe even weeks. Technology and a drastic change of enemy has changed the requisites for a woman to become an Infantry(wo)man. Unless we are going to get into a full-scale land war with a nation with the prowess to match and defeat our technological advantage of support and re-supply, there is a small need for a grunt to carry 168lbs on his or her back.
    The NFL has already produced proven tech for leg and knee braces that allow for a player with an injury to endure stress and trauma to that area without increasing the injury. I imagine that 20 years from now, if not sooner, a 95lb woman can gear herself up with leg, arm and back braces that will allow her to carry 168lbs on her back, 25 miles a day.
    I do agree that training, especially for Special Forces, should not be watered down for the sake of a woman. If a woman wants to be Army or Marine Infantry, Army Ranger, Green Beret, Air Force Para-Rescue, Marine Force Recon or Navy SEAL, she must deal with the same shit that a male applicant has to deal with, no special circumstances, period. If a woman can do what you did when you were in the Army, there is absolutely no reason that she should be forced to sit in the rear echelon and told she can’t carry a rifle and fight on the front line.

    • “Unless we are going to get into a full-scale land war with a nation with the prowess to match and defeat our technological advantage of support and re-supply, there is a small need for a grunt to carry 168lbs on his or her back.”

      Famous last words.

      JT, I don’t want a military that can do *almost* all of the work needed to defend the country, I want it to be able to do all of the work, no exceptions. So what, exactly, are we buying with this exception you speak of? I don’t see we’re getting anything out of it except for the satisfaction of some ideological purity. Please explain how that’s a good trade.

  2. Recent changes have reduced the caliber of ammunition to 5.56 from 7.62 which does lower the weight requirements. It also lowers the effectiveness of weapons used. Also, some of the new sniper rifles are significantly lighter and use a lighter, faster, flatter flying projectile.

    It is my assumption, these lighter requirements are carrying over to other gear. So, they might be saving 25lbs… Maybe another commentor can clarify on other technology which J.T. is addressing.

    I think urban settings have been emphasized. This might favor more, smaller infantrymen with greater logistical support.

    Islamic countries might be a justification to deploy female infantry due to the sensativity of interactions with our infantry men.

    The services could be shifting away from the traditional American to recruit a more politically left leaning force.

    • When I was in (1980-88) we used 5.56 ammo (the standard battle rifle hasn’t used 7.62 since before Vietnam: I’m not that old!). The equipment for light infantry (a misnomer) elite units hasn’t gotten lighter. When you add in the 30+LBS of body armor that we didn’t have to deal with, its in some ways heavier.

  3. Unless you are on what Sun Tsu calls “desparate ground” and it’s a life and death battle (kinda like the situation Custer found himself in), there are a myrisad of reasons that women should NOT be in the ground combat arms. Soldiers who have been there and done that have written books documenting why this is so,. Women, in general, were not created to be warriors. It has to do with the fundamental and natural roles of the sexes. Women get pregnant, they menstruate, they run on emotion, and, excluding a rare few, they are not spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or physically capable of embodying the warrior ethos–the Band of Brother thing.

    • Your idea of women being created to personify this mentally weak and emotional being that you call a woman is terribly ignorant. Yes, women get pregnant and menstruate; I congratulate your keen observations.

      However, not all women run on emotion, and you would be wise to acknowledge that very many women are spiritually, psysically, and yes even mentally tough. If nothing else out of these, mental toughness occurs most often in females, over physical toughness. And knowing this, you should be aware that physical and emotional strength stems from mental toughness.

      If you disagree that many women are mentally tough, you are not taking into consideration the lives of many females which includes pulling three jobs, paying for bills, taking care of two children, while still maintaining her professional and personal composure. This happens often now with less and less men having the capacity to be fathers and handle careers. This is almost an exact depiction of my early family life living without a father.

      I am NOT a feminist. I do NOT believe feminism should be pushed onto people. I believe, and I am correct as history shows this already, that feminism will come naturally with time. I do not believe it should be forced. And as a female going to college and considering the marine officer program after, I do not appreciate ignorant comments such as yours.

      I do not know how I feel about women being included in combat roles in military branches. However, I DO know that the role of women in today’s society has changed much due to the lack of men being able to adequately fulfill these roles. This is no insult to you. However when you post comments such as this, you open yourself and your gender to be scrutinized in my post just as you have done to my gender in yours. I do not appreciate such talk.

      Due to your historical idea of what women are in your description, I would place you at about 55 years old, white, and male. The reason I say this is because this is the demographic that described women similarly many historical texts during womens suffrage movements. If this is not your demographic, you should consider making yourself more open to the ideas around you. After all, this time period is very different from what I believe yours was.

      Prove me wrong.

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  5. Nice to see that everyone is getting along. For the record am I the only (man) here that has noticed a key fact: that women are being granted the POTENTIAL to serve in otherwise restricted units. I think this is important as nowhere have a heard any mention of changes to the standards, is it possible for them to be changed in the future? maybe but not today, meaning the primary argument in this debate is for the most part moot.

    Is the recent decree going to add significantly to the numbers of frontline soldiers? probably not. Does it affect the overall strength of the armed forces? No idea, nobody knows which is one of the reasons it needs to be done. P.s. I call bullshit on ‘Unit chohesion concerns’ women are ALREADY serving on the ‘frontlines’ REGULARLY (insurgencys are funny like that) and for the most part have intergrated well, is it perfect; no. Change never is.

    I’d also like to point out that not so very long ago the idea of an african-american attempting to order around an infantry platoon would probably be considered absurd or worse grounds for a lynching. That was an issue of unit cohesion as well.

    P.s. For better or worse your ‘ignorant civilians’ are profesional realists as well; they have to take into account factors beyond just what happens in the field. For better or worse we have to deal with the consequences your actions just as you have deal with the consequences of ours.

    Last but not least is the most important fact of all. It has happened and it’s not going away. What really matters now is making it work as best as possible, not bitching about maybes and could have beens.

    Remember: No one person ever has the full picture.

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