Battleland

Women in Combat: Vive a Différence

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DoD photo / Tech. Sgt. Bradley C. Church

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army General Martin Dempsey abolish the ban on women serving in combat.

Men and women differ from each other in peace, so it should come as no surprise that they’ll likely differ in combat, as well.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that virtually all ground-combat slots will be opening up to women over the next several years. “They’re fighting and they’re dying together, and the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said shortly before signing an order lifting a 1994 Pentagon rule on women serving in close-combat positions, largely in infantry and armored units. All military jobs are now open to women unless the services petition that certain billets be closed to them.

Given that ground-combat-breaking change, it’s worth checking out the Pentagon’s own data to see how military women compare with military men.

Males are more aggressive, which can be beneficial in combat. But that trait also leads to more accidents and injuries, up to and including eye injuries (men in the military have twice as many as women) and suicide (men account for about 95% of military suicides). Women are more nurturing, and their most basic form of nurturing – motherhood – accounts for 58% of hospitalizations among active-duty female troops. But they also crash and kill themselves much less often. Yet even once pregnancy and delivery hospitalizations are removed from the equation, female troops are hospitalized at a rate 30% higher than their male counterparts.

(PHOTOS: Been There, Done That: Pentagon Formally Opens Combat to Women)

The average woman doesn’t have the same upper-body strength as the average man. “From 1970 to the late 1990s, the military services, especially the Army, conducted numerous tests to determine whether the physiological differences between men and women in upper-body strength, stamina, endurance, speed, and coordination were genetically determined or the product of a less active culture among women and, therefore, subject to change through proper conditioning programs,” a 2004 Army study said. “Test results varied widely except in the case of upper-body strength, which, it was generally agreed, seldom reached the male level among females.”

None of these things, of course, are show-stoppers. But the military is always seeking the healthiest, readiest-to-go force as possible, so such gender-different details matter.

In a perfect world, every U.S. soldier would be an asexual brute with a stunningly high IQ who doesn’t eat much, is adept at following orders and leery of challenging authority.

Given that such a creature has never existed, the nation builds its military one compromise at a time.

A pretty good indicator of how women might fare in or near combat is to review the data on medical evacuations from the nation’s two post-9/11 theaters of war. From January 2003 to December 2011, 50,634 troops had to be flown out of Afghanistan and Iraq for medical reasons — 44,258 men and 6,376 women. While women have accounted for about 10% of the U.S. forces deployed into the post-9/11 wars, they represented less than 13% of those medically evacuated – pretty close to their share of the force (battle injuries represented only about 15% of the total).

medevacs

dod / medical surveillance monthly report

Integrating women into the combat arms – primarily infantry, armor and artillery – is going to be a balancing act. Standards must be met, but there will be pressure to ensure enough women qualify so there’s not only one or two in a 150-troop company.

(MORE: Women In Combat: Shattering the “Brass Ceiling”)

There are women in the ranks who are stronger than some men in the ranks. So long as standards are properly set, and enforced, these differences should not prove insurmountable. But that will require the military services to double-check and ensure that the standards relate to what the troops are expected to do and not be inflated solely to keep women out of combat.

It also requires that a keen eye be kept on standards, and what yardsticks are used. “This means setting clear standards of performance for all occupations based on what it actually takes to do the job,” said Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “It also means ensuring that these standards are gender-neutral in occupations that will open to women.”

But “gender neutral” can have more than one meaning, according to a December report from the Congressional Research Service:

The use of the term “gender-neutral physical standards” raises questions depending on how it is defined. A plain reading of the term suggests that men and women would be required to meet the same physical standards in order to be similarly assigned. However, in the past, the Services have used this and similar terms to suggest that men and women must exert the same amount of energy in a particular task, regardless of the work that is actually accomplished by either. Hypothetically speaking, if a female soldier carries 70 pounds of equipment five miles and exerts the same effort as a male carrying 100 pounds of equipment the same distance, the differing standards could be viewed as ‘gender-neutral’ because both exerted the same amount of effort, with differing loads.

It’s no small point: the Army notes that troops in Afghanistan sometimes have to carry 127 pounds on their backs. These are definitions that will have to be worked out in the months ahead.

You can glean a lot about how men and women are different by reviewing Pentagon reports since 9/11. Military men are hospitalized more than their female peers for injuries and poisonings, musculoskeletal system/connective tissue disorders, and skin and subcutaneous tissue disorders. Military women were hospitalized more than men for genitourinary disorders, mental disorders, and neoplasms – tumors.

(MORE: The Combat Exclusion Policy: Under Attack)

Females in the military also visit the military’s walk-in clinics 50% more often then men do. It’s impossible to know how much of this is because women are more willing to seek help for various maladies rather than having an actually greater number of medical issues. Migraine headaches are three times more common in female than male troops. Military women incur stress fractures at double the rate of their male colleagues.

Differences in how men and women reacted to repeated combat deployments are slight; PTSD levels were similar. Male troops drank more, and females had greater difficulty adjusting once back home.

%w:mhconds

dod / medical surveillance monthly report

It all goes back to those eye injuries. Hospital visits for eye wounds are double for male military personnel compared to female because of what causes such wounds: “guns/explosives, motor vehicle accidents, and fights or assaults,” according to a Pentagon report.

It’s tough to fight if you can’t see.

The bottom line is that there are differences between men and women in the ranks, just like everywhere else. The Pentagon’s challenge is to accommodate them without watering down the U.S. military’s readiness and lethality.

93 comments
JasonHull
JasonHull

I have one question that sums up the debate.....If D-Day happened tomorrow would you want it to be all men or all women.  If you cannot concede that all women could have beat the Nazis on that beach then you cannot argue that women should be in the Infantry fighting hand to hand against men.

DavidAuCoin
DavidAuCoin

There is ample evidence throughout history that women can be as effective combat soldiers as males.But for me having been a vietnam combat veteran the question is not so much can women be effective as combat soldiers as it is should women be in combat? In my opinion the answer is no! Why? Because of two basic reasons. 1. In order to kill one must demonize,and vilify the enemy inorder to hate the enemy in order to kill the enemy. Love your enemy is a good christian principle but it will not work on the battle field.

when a woman comes home after killing men on the battle field she is going to be exspected to form loving relationships with the gender she just demonized, and vilified

and killed. Her subconcious brain has been programed to kill the male gender. Why do you suspose nearly 100% of violent crimes are committed by men aganist men? it is because of the almost constant warfare they have been sujected to by America's unrelenting wars which have programed their subconciouses to kill men. Do you think women will be any differently effected? Already violent crimes are increaseing by females.

2.  Inorder to kill women are going to have surpress their most noble nurturing instinct.

3. Men are going to have surpress their most noble instinct of paternalism which protects women and children. Thus women in combat will require the surpression of two of the most noble of human instincts. 

NHDStudents
NHDStudents

Hi I'm working on a National History Day project with my friend, and we're advancing onto County level. We're trying to get multiple perspectives, so does anybody know a World War II Veteran? We are having trouble looking for a veteran due to ages. We're from Southern California, and we would like to interview a Veteran to get a first person perspective from what they thought on women in war, in World War II, and today. Thank you very much, and please comment on this so we could find somebody to get interviewed. Thank you again, and please wish us luck.

jcbarsch
jcbarsch

i would not want them within a half mile of them in combat,they should have there own platoon and port a pottie. they do not want to take our the trash what the hell can you expect form them..............

TommyRay
TommyRay

Even consider the psychological stress put on a largely male squad of infantry when a female is gutted by enemy fire....  But what is important is that everyone got to participate in the "fun" of combat.  I mean really... what is the likelihood that the PTSD will be exacerbated by seeing women chewed up by IED, sniper fire and land mines on a more regular and routine basis.  If I were a sniper I would purposefully maim the female ...  What do you think the men would do ?  Run out...one by one...  I would shoot to kill then...   Leaving the maimed female to cry and wail for exfil...

ace4dave
ace4dave

I wouldn't worry about all these meaningless stats.  Can't compare apples to oranges.  What matters is that human lives are at stake here.  The physical standards are put in place for a reason.  The biggest concern I would have about women is simply the upper body strength to carry heavy loads on their back.  If they cannot meet this standard, then they cannot serve a combat role.

MikkahStrong
MikkahStrong

The standards between men and women best be equal. If a man must carry 120 pounds on his back then the women must carry just as much for just as long. I was in the Army for eight years and I would greatly resent if I had to carry someone elses weight.

ThenAtlasSpoke
ThenAtlasSpoke

You're focused on the eye injury rates of the men??? Seriously??? You incredibly act as if magically, somehow, these eye injuries are random and have no relation to the men being in high risk roles.  Let me tell you something, I was in combat arms and injured my eye once. Want to know how I injured my eye? It wasn't because I was "being a guy" and horse-playing. It was because I was on a firing range with a machine gun and a fleck of burning hot gun powder (from my own or the guy next to me) found its way to my cornea. In a combat role that would have happened whether I was a man or a woman, but it wouldn't happen to a woman in a non-combat role.

At the same time, you try to somehow equate that to the rate of women having stress fractures. However what you brush over is thet women having stress fractures at twice the rate is very telling and concerning. After all, this doubling of the rate of stress fractures is occurring now with the women being in much less physically demanding roles. Put them in a forward outpost in the middle of nowhere on the side of an Afghan mountain where the physical demands are multiple times greater and that rate shoots up to what...10 times the rate...20 times the rate. You can't have that. You can't be losing soldier after soldier in a unit like that just because their bone density is physiologically lower. It endangers the lives of everybody else in that unit.

And you're wrong, the reports from Afghanistan and Iraq are NOT the only information we have to draw from. In fact, since women were  NOT taking the same risks as the men in the front-line units (the most often injured and killed) that information source is virtually useless. If you want a valid information source, all one has to do is look at the reviews the Israeli army did after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, a war in which Israel had men and women integrated into the same combat units and actually fighting together. The results were disastrous. Rather than focusing on their mission the men instead were focused on protecting and helping the women, endangering themselves and often imperiling their units. Unit morale was also negatively impacted as the men saw the women killed and brutalized without being able to help them. THAT'S the real relevant information we can draw from, not some unicorns and glitter rainbows projection out of some fantasy world.

at7004
at7004

Hollywood has already starting filming a movie about female combatants- It's going to be called Full Metal Tampon.



jooby33
jooby33

You forgot to mention that women have higher IQs than men on average and the resulting benefits including women in combat units would have as a result.  You're happy to point out that men have more upper body strength but you won't acknowledge women's higher IQs.  Why?

Dan60093
Dan60093

I will be happy to support the use of women in combat if I never have to hear the Media use the expression, "women and children", when referring to some terrible event. They have the attitude that men are expendable and do not matter, but that an event is made worse if women suffer. Get over it.

superlogi
superlogi

As Dempsey would put it, if women can't measure up, then it's up to the military to measure down.  After all, this purpose of the military is social integration.

RugeirnDrienborough
RugeirnDrienborough

The so-called statistics in this report are utter junk as far as applicability to this issue goes. None of those numbers were gathered under anything like comparable conditions. Women have not, up to now, been allowed to serve in combat roles in sufficient numbers to learn anything.

darmyman
darmyman

The government has not said if all the 18 year old females will have to begin registering with selective service starting this year?

JohnRomano
JohnRomano

I think if a woman can prove herself capable, then why not!

www.ids-Anon.tk

atpcliff
atpcliff

Are women up to the task?

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was....she was a female Infantry Sniper who killed 257 men in May 1942. They forced her to leave the front lines after a mortar attack caused her fourth combat wound.

Meet Antonina Kotliarova:

She was a female Soviet Infantry Sniper, She didn't enjoy killing men, but it was her job, so she kept at it. But, in situations like the Liberation of Warsaw, everything was close range, so she was firing submachine guns, machine guns, and antitank weapons.

Later, near the Vistula River, she was operating a machine gun emplacement. After the war, an interviewer asked if she had been trained on the machine gun:

"No, we were already experienced. We could do everything on our own. And then, we had good eyesight, and skills. After all, we had graduated from a sniper school.

One male soldier was killed there. He sat there very sad, he probably felt that he would die. He wouldn't come to the embrasure (the defensive structure) or the machine gun."

Here is a case where the women are fighting, and the man is psychologically unable to do so.

atpcliff
atpcliff

@emeraldseatown @atpcliff 

It doesn't matter if it was Plan A, or Plan Z. Women proved they could be ferocious, cold blooded, and smart soldiers.

Rachel421
Rachel421

@emeraldseatown @atpcliff Tell that to Israel, which has been conscripting females into its military for decades, many of whom are chosen for the infantry.

Or, are you saying that Israel stresses being "politically correct" over its own safety?  ROFL.


emeraldseatown
emeraldseatown

Bullets are made of lead, with a copper jacket and sometimes a steel core.  These small metal objects have no brain, so they don't know or care what or who they are fired by, or fired at.  Rucksacks, artillery shells and mountains do not get lighter, smaller or shorter for anyone.

That is the reality of combat; there is no adjustment for gender, race or creed, and we should neither bar someone from a job or give it to them based on any qualification but mission accomplishment.

atpcliff
atpcliff

@emeraldseatown 

WOW! That was THE best comment I have read on women in combat...and believe me, I have read a tonne of them over the past few days.

JohnForsthoffer
JohnForsthoffer

Whenever anyone (man or woman) signs up for the military, they're aware of the fact that some day they may be in a combat situation. Why should they ban women from combat? They should be given the same opportunities, good and bad. I had some motivated, hard charging females in my platoons back in the day. I would have fought by their side with great confidence. In the Marine Corps, it's not a male Marine nor a female Marine. Just Marine. 

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

I have worked in a high school for the past 7 years.  90% of the fist-fights are between girls.  I would say they are "combat ready."

sacredh
sacredh

When my wife was younger, she knocked a cop off of a stool ( in a donut shop no less) with one punch to his jaw because he kept hitting on her. Women can be just as brutal as men.

ArxFerrum
ArxFerrum

I recall as a boy when my uncle took me to a sideshow at the fair. There were the typical dog-faced men and the bearded women and also... at the end of the row of attractions, an adult show. The artwork on the tent was of sexy gals. Unc gave me a dollar and sent me back the other way saying that someday when I was old enough, I could go in too.


I took the buck and had a blast (a dollar went a long way then.) A few weeks later, I overheard a conversation between my Mom and Dad saying that my uncle had gotten 'sick' from that sideshow visit. When I asked what happened, they pinned me to the wall and asked how I knew about Unc's night at the fair. From there, they pinned him to the wall and gave him what-for because he took me someplace I had 'no right' to go.

Later, I finally figured out that he had contracted an STD (we called it VD then... 'the clap' to be precise). I also arrived at the conclusion that there are some so-called 'rights' and 'equalities' that we all may THINK we want but... if applied with an ounce of common sense, we'd be happy never to have.

Unfortunately, I forgot that when I got a little older and while in another place and in uniform... I repeated the mistake. 

The lesson was that equality ain't always what you need... and after a little hands-on experience, nothing you would want.


pakehaole
pakehaole

The arguments for and against really need to address the issue of how American males will view women in the future - not only thos serving with them in uniform, BUT females in general.  Never forget that men are not only "hard-wired" to think and act a certain way that differs from women, but that American society has shaped how a man should act with respect to the opposite sex.  Major shifts in perceptions of females as less "mom and sister" and more as simply another competitor and, unfortunately and too often, the stimulus for testosterone-based heroics.  It's simply the human condition that, overtime, we either experience a positive social change or men's "wiring" get fried.

antonmarq
antonmarq

As technologies improve, and new drones, robots, and other remote devices are added to the theater, women can easily handle the throttles to any of these remote control devices. However, one need to note that the reduction of men in the arm forces is a concern; especially, in ground warfare.

ArxFerrum
ArxFerrum

Equality is not some rubber stamp that can be thoughtlessly affixed to an idea to immediately make it of any value. In the case of putting females on the front lines of combat, the value is not only nil, but a dire and dangerous negative.

This is not to say that women are somehow lesser human beings than men, but war is not anything but the single worse scourge of the human condition... with its roots firmly founded in the male-engineered concept that killing is noble, destruction is prerequisite to honor and suffering is a means to respect. I dare submit that a true equality, in this instance, would be to ban males from conflict rather than expose our sisters to such a horrible invention. 

Unfortunately, our world has purposely set aside its moral compass at every opportunity of late and in so doing, pretended that such is a good thing... when, in fact, it is anything but. 

From here, I would hope to see a dramatic reduction in the number of female enlistments and then, laws generated by states that prohibit women from being forced to serve in any future military draft. 

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Isn't it kind of sad that we're the last Western Democracy to adopt so many things that the rest of the free world instituted so long ago?

championofwomen
championofwomen

What I love is that the issue of women being raped and sexually assaulted in the military has been in the media.  Some articles saying that women are safer not being with their own servicemen and combat would be a safer alternative.  Now we are allowing them in combat.  Is it to take our focus off the rapes or to make sure they are safer fighting off the enemy that our own US troops?  And aren't they already in combat then?

http://www.theusmarinesrape.com/MarshmallowHead.html

Arimathean
Arimathean

I wouldn't be too leery of the higher admission rate to clinics.  A soldier that seeks help is more likely to be on their A-game when the fighting starts.  I don't want a soldier who is too macho to admit he's got a crushing migrane beside me when the shooting starts.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

"Males are more aggressive..." Tell that to Serena Willimas. I suspect conditioning (and yes, that includes parenting) tends to evaporate aggression in girls as they grow up.


Junk.Mail
Junk.Mail

I am all for women in combat (to the extremely limited degree I am for combat at all), and in the relatively minor skirmishes the US is engaged in at the moment, my issue is moot, but in terms of permanent damage to a population, killing a woman is much more significant than killing a man. A society can lose huge fractions of the male population and totally recover within a generation, but the same is not true if the same fraction of the female population is wiped out.  Heaven forbid we ever have that kind of conflict again, but I hope some (twisted) statisticians give this some serious thought on those little white papers that outline how the next draft will be implemented.

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

Just curious; I hope this won't be misconstrued as a bigoted criticism, but what percent of these females ( sisters?) are gay. I mean ALL of them in the military. in all areas. Deployed on the ground, up in the air, on/off combat duty, etc.

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