Tuesday, January 7, 2014

If You Can't Pull Up, Postpone!

Late in 2012 the United States Marine Corps announced that it was changing the physical fitness test (PFT) requirements for women with an eye to breaking down longstanding barrierd against females for more combat roles.

Over the last several years officials have opened up artillery and tank positions in the Corps that were previously limited for men only.

All of this seems to stem from pressure from the Obama administration and liberal groups to "open up" the military to women in all forms of combat roles.

The PFT entails doing sit ups, a timed 3-mile run as well as pull-ups.  In the past women did not have to do the pull-ups but were required to do what is called a flexed-arm hang.  However, as of January 1, 2014 (in light of the fact that more women were eligible for combat-type role) it was determined that females would also have to do at least 3 pull-ups to meet the minimum requirements.

Over the last year the Marines spent a lot of money on training to get its women in a position to pass this test. For example, it had one of its top female body builders do a training video on how to do the perfect pull up.

Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps

How did things "work out"?  More than 50 per cent of women at the Marine Corps' boot camp Parris Island, SC could not do the minimum three pull-ups.

What is the Marine Corps doing about it?

That's easy.  The requirement is being postponed indefinitely.

I have written about the issue of women in combat roles before and this latest announcement by the Marine Corps seems to be a good time to revisit what I had to say about that subject once again. This is from a post I originally authored last year entitled Combat Correctness?

Combat Correctness?
(originally published January 28, 2013)

Has political correctness led us to combat correctness?

That is the question on my mind as I consider the announcement by outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to allow women to assume combat roles in the U.S military.

I fully understand the desire to open up more opportunities for women in the military.  It is a fact that serving in combat roles in the military is often necessary in order to advance to the highest ranks.  Therefore, opening up combat roles for women would be very beneficial for the women seeking those promotions.

Credit: Clay Bennett, TimesFreePress.com

However, is it the right decision looking at the military and our country at large? Are we putting the advantages for a few over the effects on the many? Let's consider this question from several perspectives.

From a physical perspective, there are women that are stronger, faster and more athletic than many men.    I don't think many men would want to challenge Brittney Griner to a game of one-on-one basketball, Serena William to a game of tennis or Allyson Felix to a 100-meter dash.  There are overlapping bell curves with respect to the physical abilities of men and women.  Some women will always have better physical abilities than some men. However, most men will enjoy physical advantages over most women.

Physical differences between men and women have been extensively tested by the U.S. military as reported by Joshua Goldstein in his book, War and Gender:  How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa.. A 1982 report of 18-year olds found that men had 72% more upper-body strength, 33% more lean body mass and 28% more aerobic capacity.  Perhaps women might score better today with greater participation in high school sports but men, on average, clearly have superior physical abilities for performance in combat.

The Air Force has tested lifting capacity using 110 pounds for both men and women recruits as this was considered a critical threshold where strength might be required to assist a fallen comrade off the battlefield. 68% of men passed this test compared to only 1% of women.

If there were not significant physcial differences between men and women why are there men's and women's events at the Olympics?  Why is there a WNBA?  Why is there a LPGA in golf?  It is because there is a difference.  What if it is your son who was left on the battlefield because his female comrade could not drag him to safety? Are we going to just ignore these facts in order to push some type of "equal rights" agenda?

There is also a mental perspective.  I think it goes without saying that women are generally constitutionally stronger than men in many respects.  Women live longer, are more resilient and are much more mature in their late teens and early 20's than men, which are the prime ages for military service.  We also have the whole issue of child bearing.  It is not called labor by accident.

As I have written before, women now make up 60% of all recent college graduates.  They have the smarts and discipline to do anything.  They have the courage and dedication to back it up. However, if it was your wife or daughter, how would their mental state deal with the following example posed by Ryan Smith in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.  Smith was a Marine infantryman in Iraq.

I served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a Marine infantry squad leader. We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 Marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other's laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems.

The invasion was a blitzkrieg. The goal was to move as fast to Baghdad as possible. The column would not stop for a lance corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or even a company commander to go to the restroom. Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.

Many Marines developed dysentery from the complete lack of sanitary conditions. When an uncontrollable urge hit a Marine, he would be forced to stand, as best he could, hold an MRE bag up to his rear, and defecate inches from his seated comrade's face.

During the invasion, we wore chemical protective suits because of the fear of chemical or biological weapon attack. These are equivalent to a ski jumpsuit and hold in the heat. We also had to wear black rubber boots over our desert boots. On the occasions the column did stop, we would quickly peel off our rubber boots, desert boots and socks to let our feet air out.

Due to the heat and sweat, layers of our skin would peel off our feet. However, we rarely had time to remove our suits or perform even the most basic hygiene. We quickly developed sores on our bodies.
When we did reach Baghdad, we were in shambles. We had not showered in well over a month and our chemical protective suits were covered in a mixture of filth and dried blood. We were told to strip and place our suits in pits to be burned immediately. My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers.
Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation's military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?

Finally, there is the emotional perspective.  We have a culture that has traditionally given women and children special status in our society.  Sure, we can pretend it doesn't exist and ignore thousands of years of history and tradition.  We could even start now and train our soldiers to ignore how they were raised.  Tell them that is doesn't matter whether Jessica or Jeff is captured.  They are both soldiers.  Forget everything you learned growing up.  Jessica will be able to handle herself with her male captors just as well as Jeff.  Forget those old stories of soldiers raping and pillaging. 

Oh, maybe there are other things that we need to worry about with Jessica that we don't have to with Jeff?

There is also the basic biology involved between young men and women.  It is already a huge problem in the military but one that you don't hear a lot about.  When you put men and women together stuff happens.  And it already is happening a lot in the military as it is. For example, just over ten percent of women in the military said in 2008 that they'd had an unintended pregnancy in the last year according to this Reuters story..  That number is significantly higher than in the general public.

The U.S. Navy seems to have had an ongoing problem with pregnancies in maintaining their force readiness.  As much as 34% of the billets of shore commands are "manned" by pregnant sailors who are not available for sea duty.  This causes problems both at sea and on the shore as the Navy must adjust assignments and staffing to deal with pregnancies of which almost 3/4 are unplanned.

Finally, where does all of this lead us if at some point the draft is reinstituted?  It is easy to look at all of this in the context of the all-volunteer military today and say that if a woman wants to volunteer, and is qualified for combat duty, why should she be denied that opportunity?

However, are we comfortable with drafting women for these roles?  I don't know when or why but we will undoubtedly come to a point at some time in the future that a military service draft will become necessary. What then?  If anyone is arguing that women are fit for combat they better be prepared to subject them to the draft as well.  Decisions like this need to be thought through to their logical conclusion.  Are we prepared for this?  If we are not, we have no business even considering women in combat roles.

I can already see the lawsuits in our future when the young man is drafted for combat duty but the young woman is not.  I can also see a lot of pregnancies to avoid the draft or service.  Think not?  I saw it all during the Vietnam War.  There were marriage deferments.  Then there were student deferments.  Finally, when they could not raise the forces that were needed, we had a lottery and the deferments ended.  That led to a lot of young men volunteering for the Reserves in order to stay stateside.

I know I have posed more questions than answers.  They are tough questions that require even tougher answers.

What I do know is that this type of policy change should not be instituted by the President of the United States, the Department of Defense or the Joint Chiefs of Staff by fiat.  If we are going to change the rules on women in combat we need a real conversation in the country on this subject and that debate needs to extend to our duly elected representatives who should vote on this policy.  

It is one thing to say that women can do these roles effectively.  It is another question altogether whether we as a country want this for our wives, daughters and girlfriends. 

Gallup survey last week found that 74% of adults stated that they would "vote for a law allowing women to serve in combat".  It is probably not surprising that the number is that high when almost anyone's first reaction should be for equality of opportunity in this country.  However, let's put all of the questions I have posed out there and have a national conversation and debate before we decide.

If you need further perspective, I suggest that you read these commentaries from women who have served on or near the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan here and here.  They have been there and done that and do not think it is the right thing to do.

As for me, count me in the 26% for now that thinks this is a bad idea.  I am open-minded but I am going to have to be convinced that this change is not being driven by political or combat correctness, but is in the best interests of the United States of America.  

This cannot be about individuals, this needs to be about the common defense and common good.  Will women in combat roles upgrade our overall capabilities and culture or will it degrade it?  Let the debate inform us all.

1 comment:

  1. This site provide a information about women and men requirements for women with an eye to breaking down longstanding barrierd against females for more combat roles.