Statement by the President on the Opening of Combat Units to Women
Today, by moving to open more military positions—including ground combat units—to women, our armed forces have taken another historic step toward harnessing the talents and skills of all our citizens. This milestone reflects the courageous and patriotic service of women through more than two centuries of American history and the indispensable role of women in today’s military. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, including more than 150 women who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan—patriots whose sacrifices show that valor knows no gender.
Earlier today I called Secretary of Defense Panetta to express my strong support for this decision, which will strengthen our military, enhance our readiness, and be another step toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals of fairness and equality.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in lifting a ban on women serving in combat, said women have become integral to the military’s success and have shown they are willing to fight and die alongside their male counterparts.
“The time has come for our policies to recognize that reality,” Panetta said Thursday at a Pentagon news conference with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Panetta said that not all women will be able to meet the qualifications to be a combat soldier.
“But everyone is entitled to a chance,” he said.
If you want to know just how far the debate over women serving in combat situations has come, look no further than Sen. Marco Rubio, a top contender for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination and a leading voice in the modern conservative movement.
For Rubio, the question is a no-brainer. “Women already are in combat to begin with. We should be putting our best soldiers forward regardless of their gender,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said Thursday evening.
For the next several months, and particularly over the summer, the services will reevaluate the standards they have in place for these combat positions, particularly the physical-fitness standards. A host of Defense Department officials swore to reporters on Thursday morning at the Pentagon that they’ll neither lower physical-fitness standards nor establish different standards by gender, something they say would violate federal law, anyway.
So the likely outcome of those tests is to find which jobs will remain excluded to women. An example a senior Marine official cited involved a loader on a tank crew. Loading a tank round requires a certain degree of upper body strength. You need to hoist a 50-odd pound, 120-mm round, removing it from its rack and loading it into the breach — here’s a video demonstration — all in a space that doesn’t really allow a lot of lower body strength to supplement. When the Army and Marine Corps explore job openings for women, that’s what they’ll test — whether a soldier or marine can do that, repeatedly, in relevant and realistic conditions, regardless of gender. (Although Dempsey mentioned one of his tank gunners when he was a division commander in Iraq was named Amanda.)
“For us it comes down to, it’s the physical standard and can they do it,” the Marine official said.
There is a problem with fitness that affects the military, but it doesn’t reflect on women alone. It reflects on Americans in general, says Barnett, who as a member of a group called “Mission: Readiness” signed a report on the dangers posed by obesity to U.S. security.
“We are too unfit to fight, is the term. We are definitely an unfit society,” Archer added in a telephone interview. “They need basic training to get ready for basic training. This is true of both males and females,” Archer said…
“When we study history, we find that women have coped with every aspect of war. Women have demonstrated the emotional courage to withstand the brutality of war, including during lengthy imprisonment as POWs under very harsh conditions in the Pacific and in European work and death camps; in very dangerous and stressful resistance fighting; in the face of rape and mutilation; and at the moments of their deaths,” Fenner writes.
In the US military, a woman’s service is not recognized, professionally or financially, the same way as a man’s. Because women have not been eligible for “combat role” positions—even though they were shooting and being shot at—they were denied access to certain career opportunities. The plaintiffs in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the Department of Defense over the exclusion of women from combat roles offer great examples of this discrimination. Two of the plaintiffs in that case have received Purple Hearts, and two have received combat medals. One of the plaintiffs, Air Force Major Mary Jennings Hegar, a helicopter pilot, was shot down in Afghanistan attempting to evacuate wounded US service members. She engaged in a firefight with enemy forces and was shot before escaping. Women are already “getting their limbs blown off in war.” Panetta’s announcement will ensure they are recognized for it…
Most men cannot meet the necessary mental and physical requirements for service in combat. Any woman who can meet those standards should not be denied the opportunity because of an arbitrary gender restriction. Moreover, removing the restriction is not about celebrating militarism. The military has long been a path for historically disfavored groups to claim the full benefits of citizenship. Justifying discrimination against blacks, gays and lesbians, or women becomes much more difficult when they’re giving their lives for their country.
Most people seem to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have merely involved driving out of a forward operating base, patrolling the streets, maybe getting in a quick firefight, and then returning to the forward operating base and its separate shower facilities and chow hall. The reality of modern infantry combat, at least the portion I saw, bore little resemblance to this sanitized view…
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…
Despite the professionalism of Marines, it would be distracting and potentially traumatizing to be forced to be naked in front of the opposite sex, particularly when your body has been ravaged by lack of hygiene. In the reverse, it would be painful to witness a member of the opposite sex in such an uncomfortable and awkward position. Combat effectiveness is based in large part on unit cohesion. The relationships among members of a unit can be irreparably harmed by forcing them to violate societal norms.
But is it a good thing? As a woman and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, I’m not so sure. To those who have been agitating for this step, I say this: be careful what you wish for…
Many women will find out in the long haul that combat entails unprecedented physical stress. As it is now, many women have greater duress on their bodies than men with the physical requirements and are discharged at higher rates from the duress on knees, hips, ankles, and joints. That reality will only be exacerbated in combat. Will physical performance standards be adjusted (that is, made less stringent) to accommodate women?…
It goes beyond physical limitations—the object of military culture is to defeat the enemy and kill anything that is a threat. There is a constant mode of aggression; I’ve seen too many women who enlisted and completed training, but soon learned they simply couldn’t face that dark reality on a daily basis.
Women have been in support roles. Driving supply trucks or flying helicopters, accompanying patrols as interpreters — some of them have come under fire, some of them have undoubtedly fired back, and a few may have engaged in fire-fights spurred by the need to defend themselves. But getting shot at is not “combat” — at least not the way the official military defines it. The Department of Defense defines a combat job as one in which a soldier’s primary duty is to seek out, engage and neutralize the enemy. This is a distinction that should be recognized. Special credit should be given. Operating in a combat zone requires bravery but seeking out and “engaging” an enemy requires even more bravery. Sorry, the U.S. military is — well, used to be — a meritocracy. It makes distinctions.
Now, (I think we can all stop pretending that there aren’t sex differences here) men like this seeking-out-the-enemy thing. Infantry jobs, jobs involving combat, have to be requested and young men will continue to enthusiastically request these positions. Will women? I doubt they will in great numbers. I think they will continue to swell the ranks of intelligence, management, medical, and logistical jobs, continue to do these jobs admirably, but avoid the combat roles. If so, the impact of this historic policy change may be insignificant. It may go down as more of Obama’s gestural politics.
Yet honoring sacrifice does not necessarily mean acceding to demands for social justice, and the real question should not be whether opening combat roles leads to greater job opportunities for women but whether placing women in infantry companies makes those units deadlier (or at least no less deadly) and more proficient in their core role — engaging and destroying the enemy in close combat.
Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, Pa., Bastogne in Belgium, and the Chosin Reservoir in Korea rank among the most hellish and brutal environments ever created by man. The idea that women in the ranks could have repelled Picket’s Charge, or the XLVII Panzer Corps, or the People’s Volunteer Army’s 9th Army just as well as men is more hope than anything else. I pray those hopes won’t ever be tested in equivalent environments, but if history is any guide, the test will come, and no amount of social justice can replace steely courage, superhuman endurance, and ironclad bonds of brotherhood.
Women and men are not interchangeable biological units. There will be consequences to this change, both expected and unexpected. Is “social justice” worth this very deadly risk?
Feminists routinely deny Eros — except when it suits them to exploit their sexual power. Only someone deliberately blind to human reality could maintain that putting men and women in close quarters 24 hours a day will not produce a proliferation of sex, thus introducing all the irrational passions (and resulting favoritism) of physical attraction into an organization that should be exclusively devoted to the mission of combat preparedness. Reported “sexual assaults” will skyrocket, and of course it will only be the men who are at fault. Any consensual behavior leading up to the “assault” — getting in bed with your fellow grunt drunk and taking off your clothes, for example — will be ignored, since in the realm of sexual responsibility, women remain perpetual victims, at the mercy of all-powerful men. Expect a windfall to the gender-sensitivity-training industry, which will be called in both before and after the entry of women into combat units to eradicate endemic male sexism.
Even if Leon Panetta intends to keep female fighting units sex-segregated, that distinction won’t last. Feminists will complain that female-only units stigmatize women.
Chivalry is one of the great civilizing forces, taming men and introducing social graces and nuance to what would otherwise be a brutish social world. It is already on life support, but sex-integrated combat units will provide the coup de grâce.
It’s predictable that members of Congress—including many who privately know better—will be intimidated by the forces of gender correctness from arguing against women in harness. It’s predictable that the media will unfairly attack critics of women in combat units as failing to respect the achievements and sacrifices of our servicewomen who have served and are serving in harm’s way. It’s predictable that few in our political and cultural elites will speak up for biology, for common sense, or for decency or honor.
This is therefore a moment of opportunity. The political leader who takes on this fight will be mocked and scorned–almost as much as was Ronald Reagan in 1977, when he challenged the bipartisan elite consensus on the Panama Canal Treaty. As it happens, I suspect this fight will prove more winnable in Congress than the fight against the Panama Canal Treaty. But whatever happens in Congress, will any political leader step up, as Reagan once did, to fight the good fight?