In the 1990’s, a frequent topic of discussion was the inclusion of women in the combat arms branches of the military. Proponents of integration argued that women could not rise to the highest posts without experience in combat arms (true), and this would inevitably further the masculine-bias of the U.S. military. The argument reached a crescendo during the Clinton presidency, and seemed to taper a bit with the start of the Bush administration. I had hoped that the issue had finally been put to bed after the start of hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, thinking that its proponents would see the physical demands of combat in Tora Bora or Fallujah, and give up their misguided quest to prove that women can perform as well as men in such strenuous environments.
Imagine my dismay to see in this week’s issue of the Marine Times that it is once again rearing its head. (You must have a subscription to one of the Military Times publications to use the link.)
“If Congress lifted the gender restriction on combat-arms service, the Army would be able to progress even further toward work-force diversity by boosting both the number of women officers and the number of black officers (both men and women), particularly in the senior ranks,” Col Anthony Reyes wrote in “Strategic Options for Managing Diversity in the U.S. Army.”
It’s interesting to note that Col Reyes is pushing this as a way to increase the number of black senior officers. While I doubt anyone in this day and age will argue that racial and ethnic diversity in the ranks is a good thing, I fail to see why integrating women into the combat arms is an acceptable means to achieve that end.
The article tells of LTC Bert Ges of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, who commanded a military police platoon (?) in Kandahar, Afghanistan. While, on the face of it, that makes no sense to me (A LTC in charge of a platoon?), that can be addressed another time. LTC Ges mentions that he had to send female soldiers on infantry tasks.
“Everyone downrange is fighting the enemy – regardless of race or sex.”
While I certainly won’t argue that there are women who have performed various tasks that traditionally fall to infantrymen, this still falls short of justifying the integration of women, in my opinion. The tasks that these female Soldiers and Marines are performing fall, more correctly, under security operations than “infantry tasks”. There have been very few of the high-intensity offensive operations that characterize true infantry combat. Operations Anaconda (2002) and Al Fajr (2004) were two notable occasions that saw infantrymen performing a more traditional role. And one only needs to talk to a veteran of either of these two operations to find out that our traditional role is physically intense.
The goal of gender equality in all things might seem admirable, but it flies in the face of physical reality. Physiological differences between men and women are numerous, and many of them have a direct impact on the suitability of women to ground combat roles. For instance, maximal oxygen consumption (or VO2 max), which is an important ingredient of a man or woman’s performance in aerobic endurance events. The average, “untrained” female’s VO2 max is only 57% of a comparable male’s. Additionally, women have roughly 60% of the skeletal muscle mass of a man of the same age and body mass index, and their widened pelvic structure decreases mechanical efficiency on long movements. In short, the male body is just better equipped for the harsh world of locating, closing with, and destroying the enemy.
Why do we insist on ignoring basic physical realities in the hopes of creating “equalities” where they don’t exist?