06 February 2013
WOMEN IN COMBAT
On 24 January 2013 the Pentagon lifted its ban on women serving in direct combat roles. While hailed by many as a bold step in the direction of gender equality, in truth the move simply recognized what has been reality all along in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a combat zone with no front lines, there are no "safe" jobs. Women who drive trucks in military convoys, women who serve as medics, women who pilot helicopters and fighter aircraft, have been using weapons, fighting, getting wounded, and dying alongside their male counterparts for years.
Raising restrictions on the MOS (Military Operational Specialty) to which a woman can be assigned opens up pathways of career opportunities which were officially closed to women until now. It also recognizes the reality that men and women are equally capable of just about anything. A minority of gender traditionalists complain that the presence of women in a combat unit might serve as a distraction to the men, but experience has proven otherwise.
Others point out that anatomically, women don't have the upper body strength that men do ~ strength that might be required to carry a wounded comrade to safety. Here too, reality indicates otherwise. In fact, for each gender there is a bell curve for physical strength, with some men (and women) excelling while other men (and women) struggle to keep up. There is considerable overlap between the two curves, meaning that many women are actually stronger and more agile than many men. Thus it makes no sense to restrict an entire group, when any evaluation should be done individually. I know from experience that trained women are equal to men in marksmanship, in hand to hand combat, in judgment under pressure, in intelligence and resourcefulness and courage, and in loyalty to their peers and their country.
The key, as some Marine officials point out, is to set a challenging standard, and train both genders to that standard. If both are required to do 20 pull-ups, both will train and meet that goal. Women themselves advocate equal training requirements.
It is not particularly useful for different branches of the military to use different training standards. Currently the Marines are shifting to gender-equal goals, while the Army is lagging behind, clinging to gender-adjusted tests. This does no one any favors. I know that if I were back in the military, in a gender-integrated unit, I would expect all the men and all the women in my unit to be able to perform well. The lives of everyone depend on it.