Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Females in combat units? (UPDATED)

(please scroll down for the update)

This should prove to be interesting.

A military advisory panel appears poised to recommend allowing female troops to serve in combat units without any restrictions, calling the current prohibition an out-of-date idea that unnecessarily discriminates against women.

If approved by military officials, the move could open front-line posts to military women for the first time. Until now, either U.S. law or Pentagon policy has prohibited female troops from serving in any unit whose primary mission is direct ground combat, although they may serve in combat support roles.

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission, established by Congress two years ago, issued the recommendation as part of a draft report on diversity in the services. The final report is due to lawmakers this spring, and commission members are meeting this week in Virginia to debate final changes.

First of all, was there any chance that something called the Military Leadership Diversity Commission wasn't going to recommend that females be allowed to serve in combat units?

That snark aside, we have serious reservations about this. Issues of logistics, physical strength and endurance and unit cohesion all immediately spring to mind.

Also, since war-fighting has, over the years, become more public-relations intensive, does this nation have the stomach to see its wives, sisters, daughters and mothers return from the battlefield maimed or in body bags?

We've been plenty wrong before but we just don't have a good gut feel about this. Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

(UPDATE #1): No real update. We were liking the comments this post was receiving so we wanted to keep it going by not letting it get buried for the benefit of those who only swing by BwD every two-three days or so.


Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Logistics, hell, they're going to die in numbers far beyond what statistics will suggest.

In a fight, go you for the weak one. If there's a woman, hey! The bad guys are going to all pick her as the weak one. It doesn't matter if she's the strongest one, somehow, she'll die under focused fire.

But who cares, the officer females will get to put combat on their brag sheet, same as with subs.

Mutnodjmet said...

I will argue the opposite side -- call it the Athena approach.

Women have already seen combat -- as they are now assigned to "combat operations" as a loophole. As technology becomes a larger key to effective fighting, the assets of pure physical strength are not nearly as important as dexterity and intelligent.

That being said, physical standards should not be reduced and there also should be no set-numbers as to how many should be accepted.

steve said...

In our asymmetric wars, there are no clear front lines. Everyone becomes a combat soldier. We have also been using female soldiers to communicate with women in Afghan villages. We already expose them to high risk combat situations. There are accounts of American women holding their own in ambushes.

That said, they need to meet the same standards. Also, there should be a trial to see if it works if they decide to go through with this. Personally, I would prefer limited entrance to combat units, staying out of the infantry for a while.


Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

All the "need to"s will never happen.

Same as there was no real question what their finding would be.

Dean said...

I've heard the terms "combat operations" and "combat units" thrown around alot in the context of this debate.

Are the two terms distinctions without a difference?

Steve, while I agree with you that they need to meet the same physical standards, what sort of objective criteria would you use for the go/no-go call in your "trial".

As warfare becomes increasingly asymetrical, it would appear to be difficult to standardize any criteria let alone glean meaningful results from any sort of trial effort.

This is one of those areas where I would love to be proved wrong but my gut feel on this is that for better or worse, the ultimate decision seems to be pre-ordained.

Road Dawg said...

There are already female pilots. I don't see the problem with this in theory, but Ms. Fier is correct, the need to's will not be in place.

Not “everyone” becomes a combat soldier. There are supply and legal jobs, missile and air defense maintenance, signal (communications), and engineering jobs where the likelihood of ever seeing hostile fire is very remote. And you can' use anecdote about a supply convoy being ambushed as your "everyone".

But as for a trial, I think there is good room for the idea. We can start with combat engineers, cavalry and artillery. If serving in a combat zone, they deserve the brag sheet mention.

As for the infantry, they've got to make it through 11B AIT, I believe this will "work itself out". Women who can hump a ruck for 10 clicks, field strip an M60, go days without sleep or a bath deserve the honor that comes with the blue cord. I don't think I would want to date them, but if they can hang, I'd fight with them.

B-Daddy said...

Stand by for a reduction in physical standards for combat troops, because diversity is the more important to our "warfighting" leaders than actual combat effectiveness. Combat effectiveness ≠ promotions or budget dollars. Diversity correctness = promotions and budget dollars. If you have the stomach, you can read mind numbing example after example each week in cdr salamander's Diversity Thursday post. BTW, his tag line is the snarkiest I have ever seen, befitting a warrior in today's bureaucratic military culture:
"Proactively “From the Sea”; leveraging the littoral best practices for a paradigm breaking six-sigma best business case in the global commons, rightsizing the core values supporting our mission statement via the 5-vector model through cultural diversity."

B-Daddy said...

Also, the Secretary of Defense acknowledges the lack of moral courage in today's senior officer corps in a speech at the boat school covered by cdr salamander. If this makes you worried about the direction our military is headed, it should.

Dean said...

You had me at "littoral".

Secular Apostate said...

I feel the same way about this as I felt when the Battalion Commander of our volunteer fire department pushed back hard when I refused to partner with a 5'2" female. When he asked whether it was "because she's a woman", I told him I would be happy to partner with anyone capable of carrying me out of a burning structure should that become necessary.

She was a babe, though. I wouldn't have minded practicing a couple of times.

SarahB said...

The ONLY way to legitimize women intentionally being put on the front lines is to add women to the mandatory selective service registry. We are either all in or all out.

drozz said...

hasn't israel been doing this for a while?

not really by choice, more of self preservation.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Nope, in spite of lawsuits.

They tried, it failed.

They can patrol (with men, although it tends to be at least a 2:1 ratio female:male) and are (obviously) at check points. But other than that, Most combat roles are closed.

Same way that the Navy has females in combat units and has for years-- in jets.

steve said...

This is a highly professional, very smart military we have. It is also all-volunteer. I dont expect them to accept soldiers who cannot meet standards.

We are already using women in Afghanistan. They risk their lives same as the guys when they go out to work with the Afghan women. Recognizing them in those kinds of roles and allowing for roles in other non-infantry seems doable. If that works out, then try infantry.

Having forced myself to plow through a couple of military budgets, I have never seen budgets increased or decreased for diversity. I would be interested in a link to a site illustrating that phenomenon.


Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

We also know that our women in Iraq and Afghanistan are prime targets for insurgent attacks-- have known that for years.

Heck, we even shuffled our ship's guard duty to make sure that females weren't a first line, because it might tempt some moron terrorist to attack.

One of the primary focuses in our counter terrorism yearly training was that fact that our enemies aren't politically correct, and are quite willing to fight dirty.

B-Daddy said...


Say what you will, but as a retired officer, I have personal experience and my friends in the aviation community do as well, with standards being lowered to accommodate women. Of course the women will meet the standards, once the standards are changed.

With respect to budgets, take a small thing like the design of emergency levers in a combat aircraft. My friend, a former military test pilot, explained how he worked with the contractor to deal with the fact they had to design the equipment to operate with less force, so that it would be operable by 90% of women in the target age group for pilots. The engineering trade offs involved are not insurmountable, but not trivial either. He made it clear to the contractor that a failure to do so would have negative financial repercussions.

Having said all that, I am not unalterably opposed to the move, but I really desire an honest intellectual discussion that doesn't sweep a myriad of issues under the table. If in the grand scheme of force structure, the women are needed, and it could be proved that it was in the best interests of national security, I could be persuaded. Further, following the lead of the SecDef, those in uniform and those who have left the service have an obligation to speak clearly and truthfully about the effects of policy decisions.

steve said...

If you are going to have women anywhere other than on larger FOBs for those deployed in country, they are going to be exposed. I think that you also need to remember what happens in Afghanistan. Relatively few fatalities come from small arms fire, what I think you are referring to as going after the weakest. Most come from IEDs. Following the logic about the weakest, we should have no women deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.


Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

On the ground?

That, I greatly agree with; know your enemy. Don't put big o'l targets on any of your people.

It's the same way our guys are (or were) growing beards to work in-country.

If we run into an enemy that thinks red heads are satanic monsters which must be killed, even at the risk of sacrificing everyone you know-- don't put red heads where they will be seen.

Harrison said...

Love to know how women will deal with sanitary issues stuck in a trench in the rain for a week at a time. Or having less strength than men which will put lives at risk. Or if they get captured and raped on film. If women want to fight, let them do it in planes where those things are less a factor or even in tanks but on the ground in the trenches? Women and men simply are built differently.

steve said...

Thx B-Daddy. I was unaware that they had done that. Good thing they didnt have to fly MIGs. What standards did they change?


Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Last time I took the PRT, the only thing we had to do that was on a male level was setups.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Here's the '05 instruction.

Dean said...

Great comments, guys.

Again, it may not be a strictly military consideration, but are "we" as a nation prepared to accept this country's women coming home without arms, legs and/or with disfigurements let alone body bags?

The image, at least, of front line warfare has always been exclusively male.

Road Dawg said...

This discussion has left the context of the military advisory panel’s recommendations as posted by Dean.

In this context, not “everyone” becomes a combat soldier as Steve would like to present. Let’s not confuse “combat” with hazardous duty. The panel is calling for lifting the prohibition of women in DIRECT GROUND COMBAT. We all know there are hazards involved in combat support where there are women presently serving.

So far as standards being met, if not during training, then they will be met on the battlefield. There were many men in my FIST unit that made the training only to be sent to the artillery or kitchen because they couldn’t hang when it came down to a zero-dark-thirty jump in the trees and subsequent 10 click hump with little to no chow. And that was with nobody shooting at them. I don’t think we have to worry about the men getting all-chivalrous with the women that can hang in the infantry. (All due respect to Ms. Fier’s links to Israel’s attempts) To quote a great man, “these things have a way of working themselves out.”

Do we have the stomach for it? Of course not! We are fighting wars like a bunch of pansies already. Thousands of years of time and forethought have gone into the psychological dimensions of terrorist warfare whereas the politically correct notion of limited collateral damage is fairly recent. If the enemy is using houses of worship and civilian communities as shields, we must be willing to take that heat and obliterate the area. Make is so devastating to communities to harbor the enemy they either turn against the enemy or surrender. Playing by politically correctness is foolish when the other side resorts to killing innocents….even their own. They know this is our weakness and use it against us. Is this playing dirty against a more powerful adversary, Ms. Fier, or playing it smart?

Jeesh Dean, like to stir it up?

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I don't think I'd brag about it if our special forces would not protect women more then men.

Simple fact is, the rules will be changed until "enough" women make it into the right places. If they don't get advanced fast enough, or if they are disproportionately rejected or removed, there will be hearings and whoever selected for ability instead of the proper sex ratio and photo-op will be gone.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

They know this is our weakness and use it against us. Is this playing dirty against a more powerful adversary, Ms. Fier, or playing it smart?

Of course it's playing dirty. It's horrific and wrong. Doesn't mean it's not effective.

Seeing as I favor the lard-filled-casket approach to suicide bombers, guess what I think we should do. (Although I am split on covering all bullets with pig fat.)

Road Dawg said...

There is no bragging, just there is the type of woman that would make it in the infantry and I don't believe chivalry would come into play, nor should it even if the stereotype weren't true. Although the articles don't expound on the standards of the Israeli army, I would guess they were lowered.

So our discussion may be futile. History and recent politics may dictate that all things are not equal. If they were, I would be proud to serve with them.

BTW, FIST is a team mostly forward of the infantry in small units calling in indirect fire support, artillery, air support, mortars..Ect. I don't want my service to be "John Kerry'd" to the level of the Green Berets by any inference.

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