A One-Time SEAL on Those Female SEAL-Wannabes

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Navy photo / Blake Midnight / via Getty Images

All-male Navy SEALs training along the southern California coast.

The decision to scrap the Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule of 1994 by then-defense secretary Leon Panetta earlier this year did not immediately put women into combat.

But it has led to Pentagon review of how best to open up the military to women without watering down its readiness to fight. Regarding the future role of women in the the Navy SEALs and other special-operations roles, it simply directed commanders to “proceed in a deliberate, measured, and responsible way to provide women the opportunity to qualify for currently closed (ground combat) positions.”

The services have to come up with plans to integrate females by October 2015. Recent directives have spelled out how this is going to take place.

A ground-breaking directive like this back in the 1990s might have caught the Navy SEALs, and those who train Navy SEALs, off guard.

Before 9/11, SEAL training was difficult and highly-selective by any standard. But it also was tradition-bound and lacked the wartime-driven imperatives that today mark SEAL training.

The last decade-plus of continuous combat operations and the current train-like-you-fight/fight-like-you-train approach have greatly improved the SEAL training pipeline. In Basic Underwater SEAL demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) and SEAL qualification training (SQT) and subsequent SEAL training, the focus has been on what works and what doesn’t work–what is needed in the battlespace and what can be discarded because there’s a better way.

So what is essential to them in the making of a Navy SEAL in the Global War on Terror is in place. Furthermore, it’s been codified in blood.

The standard is in place. Meet this standard and you can qualify to be a Navy SEAL.

So in this way the Navy SEALs (as with the Army Special Forces, 75th Rangers, and Marine Special Operators) have made their warrior standard very clear. Tactically, technically, physically, and professionally, this is what it takes. Do this, sir or ma’am, and you can be one of us.

Yet, there may be more to it than this. I’ll not go into the particulars of upper body strength, hygiene, lack of privacy, sexual tensions, reproductive biology, etc., etc. These will sort themselves out in the sorting process that is BUD/S and SQT.

In my opinion, there are but three issues:

— First, the standards in place are combat-proven standards – there can be no slackening of standards. The run times and pull-up minimums are the same for all. On the 100-yard buddy-carry sprint–I carry you and your combat load and you carry me; it doesn’t matter if I’m a 150-pound SEAL (which I was) or a 220-pound SEAL, as many are today. Your life and mine depend on my ability to get you out of a kill zone and safely to cover. There can be no compromise.
— Second, those women who can meet this standard have to do so in more than ones or twos. It is unreasonable to open training to 200 women to find two who can meet standard.
— Third, and finally, there is the cultural issue. Do we as a nation, and an American culture, want our mothers, sisters, and daughters in the business of sustained, direct, mortal, combat?

Is this the will of the people?

If we, as a nation and a culture, do, then so be it. Let the women in the fight.

Dick Couch is a leading authority on U.S. military special-operations training.  His books include The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228 and Sua Sponte, Army Ranger Training.

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