Battleland

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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