Lifting the Ban: Now What?

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The author, as a lieutenant commander, shortly after becoming the first woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Opportune, in 1990.

The timing was right, politically, for the outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to declare that he is — upon the recommendation of Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs — lifting the ban on women in ground combat. The team that believes in equal opportunity, as well as equal rights, will have the opportunity to make this happen, and to ensure the continued effectiveness of the military and the safety of all the troops involved.

Many naysayers predict the end of the world as we know it…all too often when there is a change in military personnel policy, whether it is for blacks, homosexuals, or women, they predict the worse: race riots, lynchings, fragging, unmitigated rape of both men and women…the list of serious crimes these people think will happen goes on and on.

But for the most part, most people in the military understand the need for change, and though they personally may not like it, they learn to live with it. Eventually, they tend to end up accepting that it was the right thing to do.

The arguments I hear most often are that women don’t have the necessary strength to hump a 70-pound pack over hill and dale, and that there will be an increase in the already too high number of sexual assaults in the military. Therefore women should not be put in harm’s way.

My response to the first: while most women are less physically strong than most men, there are individual women who can physically do it, just as there are individual men who cannot. The decision point should be on the ability to do the job, not gender.

As for the second argument, there are two issues. first, men, not just women, need to learn what rape is and how to prevent it. Second, leadership needs to stop protecting rapists and stop tolerating a command climate that looks the other way when sexual violence or discrimination occurs.

Too many complaints are pooh-poohed,. There is little in the way of recourse for a victim to circumvent the chain of command, if required — especially when there is a difference in pay grade. The senior person is most often believed…that is part and parcel of the system — and part of the problem, since sexual assault is usually about power, not passion.

There is a third issue as well: should women be forced into the infantry as men are? And should women be conscripted if ever a draft is reinstated?

In the All-Volunteer Force military, few people are forced to do things they either do not want to do, including assignment to tanks, infantry, or submarines, or for which they are not suited.

In both cases, pre-screening is essential. A major pre-screening requirement to determine propensity for a specific job is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test score for enlisted, or one’s college ranking for officers. Other pre-screens may include physical assessments that reflect the requirements of the job, and medical tests: pressure and oxygen-tolerance tests in the case of military divers, and tests for claustrophobia for submarine personnel. Pilots have to have 20/20 vision, and they have to be able to withstand the G-forces they will encounter in tight maneuvers at supersonic speeds. The list goes on…

As far as conscription is concerned, yes, women should be conscripted just like the men…but the difference is that all personnel should be screened for propensity and qualifications, not just shotgunned (pardon the pun) into one job or another. Most, if not all, military jobs have technical requirements that can be filled by more than a single person. And of course, if the requirement is to fill the ranks of the infantry, then physical assessments come into play. After all, even in the heat of the draft during World War II, many men were rejected for various reasons…it stands to reason women who do not fit the bill would be rejected as well.

In the end, what really matters here is that there be an awareness of potential problems, and solutions to those problems beforehand…much like what happens in a war game or operations analysis…let’s put the military’s strength to bear in solving some of these issues before they become epidemics.

Losing at war is not an option. Neither is losing valuable military personnel.

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Jan 26, 2013
 Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail
But please, people. Let’s get real. Women cannot equal men in ground combat, the kind of dirty, brutal stuff that (fortunately) makes up a very minor part of modern military life, especially post-Afghanistan. It’s not that they can’t be trained to kill – they can. The issue is that the physical differences between men and women are very large, and on the battlefield, they really matter, and can’t be wished away. Men are better fighters because they are bigger and stronger and can endure far more physical punishment before they break down.

The average female soldier is “about five inches shorter than the male soldier, has half the upper body strength, lower aerobic capacity and 37 per cent less muscle mass,” Stephanie Gutmann, author of The Kinder, Gentler Military, wrote in the New Republic. “She cannot pee standing up … She tends, particularly if she is under the age of 30 (as are 60 per cent of military personnel) to get pregnant.”


Currently, more than 26 countries allow women in direct combat, including Canada, New Zealand, Britain, Australia, Norway and Germany.

In addition, Israel, Turkey, Norway, Russia, Poland, India, China, Afghanistan, Korea and Britain have females in Special Ops. The U.S. just opened up Task Force 160, an aviation special ops force, to women.


@atpcliff from WSJ:

For years, Canada has found it difficult to fill combat roles with women in the first place. Women account for about 14% of all military positions in the Canadian Forces but just 2.4% of combat jobs, according to government data.

Karen Davis, a defense expert at the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute in Kingston, Ontario, said women considering a combat role are more likely than men to cite concerns about the effect on their families.

In spring 2008, Canadian Infantry Cpl. Katie Moman landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, trained, equipped and ready to fight for one of the few Western armies that allow women in all front-line combat roles. But as her six-month tour progressed, Cpl. Moman found her troubles had less to do with Afghan insurgents and more to do with what she says was her commanders' desire to keep her from them. . .Cpl. Moman, meanwhile, was mainly placed in backup roles such as intelligence and radio operations while serving in Afghanistan in 2008—tracking from afar the combat she believed she was being kept out of.

One former senior Canadian commander in Afghanistan, who declined to be named, said that while women performed well in combat roles, male colleagues often had a counterproductive desire to "protect" them. Men looked to carry women combatants' gear or protect them in the battlefield, he said.

Army Corp. Donald Hookey, who drove military trucks in Afghanistan, agreed with that sentiment. "That brother-sister protective thought was always in the back of your mind," he said.


The sexual assault issue should be separate from the issue of permitting women in combat-related career fields. Sexual assault is a violent crime and the military needs to treat it as such. Would the military tolerate assaulting a superior officer? Of course not because it totally undermine discipline. So why does sexual assault be any different?

As far as answer the Now What question, there will be a decade or so period of adjustment. We need to look at doing the job smarter and better. If equipment can be made lighter or made easier to carry, then do so. We also need to make sure that our polices are well thought out and consistent. We also need to balance the needs of combat effectiveness with the needs for fairness and equal opportunity.


@JohnDittmerHow is sexual assault different from assaulting a superior officer? Well to start with, sexual assault in the military, including academies, is currently an epidemic that has drawn a congressional hearing. It's not new -- it's been going on for 8 or ten years at least. There's been no significant assault on superior since the fragging incidents of the early seventies. As General Welsh stated (below): The truth is, these numbers are appalling.


Dar, you're definitely on target with his one. Days of defined front line are over. Since WWII, women have been killed, captured, wounded, etc. just like the men. These days, you can get attacked anywhere due to terrorism, long range missiles, sabotage, guerilla tactics, etc. There currently many instances now where women are already in combat roles in every sense but on paper. Since 9/11, women have been serving with men on the front lines, taking the same risks. Lifting the ban simply allows women to officially enter career paths which lead to senior positions/ranks in the military.


@JohnDittmer The possibility of being attacked anywhere is not the same as serving in the infantry, the brutal, physically demanding  task of closing with and destroying the enemy in close quarters on land. That's not something a naval craft commander would ever experience.


**As for [the problem of sexual assault], there are two issues. first, men, not just women, need to learn what rape is and how to prevent it. Second, leadership needs to stop protecting rapists and stop tolerating a command climate that looks the other way when sexual violence or discrimination occurs. Too many complaints are pooh-poohed,. There is little in the way of recourse for a victim to circumvent the chain of command, if required — especially when there is a difference in pay grade. The senior person is most often believed…that is part and parcel of the system — and part of the problem, since sexual assault is usually about power, not passion.**

Well that describes it, but doesn't solve this "appalling" problem. About one in three military women have been sexually assaulted  -- double the rate of civilian women, the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau reports. Women in remote combat outposts will be at a much higher risk.

The most recent DOD report on sexual assault is for FY 2011, which ended September 2011. (That is an indication of the lack of commitment at the Pentagon.)

Annual Report of Sexual Assault in the Military
FY 2011

Army Rate/1000 2004-2011

84% of Army victims in FY11 were in the grades E1-E4 and 66% of victims in completed investigations
were 24 years old or younger.

FY 2011, Army 984, Navy 378, Jan 23, 2013
Due to public outrage over a sex-with-recruits scandal that recently occurred at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the U.S. House Arms Services Committee held a public hearing on sexual assaults within the military.

General Mark Welsh, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, spoke at the Wednesday hearing. "I will never stop attacking the problem," he told the House Armed Services Committee.

The Associated Press stated that Welsh said the Air Force recorded a disturbing number of sexual assault reports in 2012. Preliminary figures show 796 reports of cases, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape.

The number of sexual assault cases in 2012 saw a nearly 30 percent increase from 2011, when 614 cases came to light. Welsh reasoned that the number of cases could grow in 2013, because many cases are never reported.

Welsh gave his opinion on these statistics during the Congressional hearing:

    "Calling these numbers unacceptable does not do the victims justice. The truth is, these numbers are appalling."


Now What?
The Army Training and Doctrine Command is working on it.
TRADOC chief: Women, men to have same standards

Army Times: Cone says ‘physical standards’ key for women in combat

Integration of women into combat jobs in the Army “comes down to physical standards,” said Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of Training and Doctrine Command. “Standards that mean something.”

Only those women who prove they can do the job will enter combat roles, said Cone. The Army now has to find a way to fairly make that assessment, he said.

To determine which women are eligible, the Army will develop a series of tests to determine whether soldiers have the physical ability to do the tasks associated with specific combat related jobs, such as lifting an artillery round. Once the standard is established, both men and women will have to pass the test.

The Army has been gradually opening combat-related jobs to women, opening six MOSs in a pilot project announced last summer. The nine brigade combat teams in the pilot study provided valuable data that will be used going forward, according to Cone.

The remaining closed MOSs are: 11 Infantry, 13B Cannon Crewmember, 13D Field Artillery Automated, 13F Fire Support Specialist, 18 Special Forces, 19 Armor, 21B/12B Combat Engineer, 180A Special Forces Warrant.

Closed job fields will be opened, unless the services ask that some of them remain closed — and provide an acceptable explanation for the request to the secretary of defense. The Army has until May to deliver its implementation plan to DoD.


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