Advocates of allowing women in combat have changed their approach. Their latest argument is that female soldiers cannot be promoted to the highest ranks in the Army because they are not allowed to serve in direct combat roles. Apparently, to become a general soldiers must punch their “combat tickets”. It follows, then, that the ban on women in direct combat roles has the effect of limiting women to the lower ranks. Hence, the argument goes like this: women soldiers—for the sake of career advancement—should be allowed to serve in combat. In fact, some women are so determined to use combat to climb the career ladder that they have dropped their objections to meeting the same physical requirements as male soldiers.
Frankly, I find the arguments for allowing women in combat tiresome. Here is something I learned while serving in the Marine Corps: the only person who wants to go into combat is one who has never been there. Frankly, I think advocates of women in combat have been watching too many movies—movies like the ridiculous “G.I Jane.” Even worse, they think what they see in the movies is real. The movies are not real, but combat is and it’s not pretty.
While I appreciate the desire of female soldiers to achieve the highest rank possible, I do not think career advancement is a valid reason for putting them in combat roles. Surely the Army can work out a career advancement system in soldiers in support roles—male and female—can achieve higher ranks in non-combat career fields. Placing women in combat represents a major organizational change and there is only one valid reason for making major organizational changes: to improve performance. Consequently, the question that must be asked and honestly answered is this: Will putting female soldiers in direct combat roles improve the Army’s ability to fight? According to a study conducted by the British Army, the answer to this question is “no.”
In today’s U.S. Army, basic training is co-educational—male and female recruits train together (a bad idea but a topic for another column). Although they train side-by-side, male and female recruits do not have to meet the same physical requirements. To complete Army basic, a man must be able to do 35 pushups, 47 situps, and run two miles in 16 minutes and 36 seconds. By way of contrast, a woman must do 13 pushups, 43 situps, and run two miles in 19 minutes and 42 seconds. I have trouble imagining a woman who can do only 13 pushups carrying a wounded buddy who might weigh 200 pounds or more to safety on the battlefield. In fact, I think the Army’s physical requirements for women AND men are too low. Further, not only should the physical requirements for men and women be increased, if they are going to fight together the requirements should be equal. As mentioned earlier, leading advocates of women in combat are now prepared to concede this point. But what will happen if women have to meet the same physical requirements as men in the Army? There, so to speak, is the rub.
According to a British study, if physical requirements are equalized without reducing them the Army will experience a spike in attrition and injury rates among women recruits. Opting for political correctness over common sense, the British Army adopted in the 1990s what it called a “gender-free” policy in which women could pursue all of the same roles as men—including combat roles—provided they met the same training requirements. In 2010, after studying the results of its gender-free experiment, the British Army quietly dropped the policy and returned to unequal training requirements and a ban on women in combat roles. Why? The Brits were losing too many female recruits to attrition and injuries because of the physical requirements.
Advocates of allowing women in combat like to use exceptional examples when comparing the relative physical abilities of men and women. They like to tell stories of physically gifted and conditioned women who are able to keep up with and even surpass men in certain sports. But these are not the women the Army attracts in large numbers. The Army draws its recruits from the general population of men and women, not from among those who could qualify for the Olympics. Hence, decisions concerning women in combat should be based on the known capabilities of the general population, not the abilities of commendable but exceptional cases, male or female. I am sure our enemies love it when America wastes its limited resources on social experiments driven by political correctness rather than focusing on making real improvements to our fighting ability. I will support women in combat when our enemies agree to go easy on them because they are women.