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Spinning the Story on Women in Land Combat

August 14, 2013
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"Fox & Friends" personality Anna Kooiman, often featured in sports or entertainment human interest stories, recently traveled to Camp Lejeune, NC, to talk with women who are training for combat duties with Navy Riverine Squadron 2.  These squadrons, which operate from small boats that patrol near shorelines or on rivers in war zones, historically have been designated all-male.  The Obama Administration suspended that policy in January 2013, even though onboard privacy is practically non-existent and close combat on land always is a possibility.

In her report, Ms. Kooiman talked to women who were completely confident in their abilities, and to men who seemed eager to please by effusively agreeing with them.  Portraying the training like something of an outdoor reality show, the Fox segment was similar to a Virginian-Pilot newspaper article about male and female trainees at the same Camp Lejeune riverine training base in May:

The newspaper article started the spin cycle with rhetorical questions: "...Does it matter if a woman isn’t as strong or as fast as a man? If she needs help climbing a high wall during a firefight or dragging a heavy colleague off the battlefield, does that make her less of an asset?  Can focus, determination and commitment compensate for physical shortcomings?"

Honest answers would be Yes, Yes, and No.  Determination, intelligence, and courage are important, but physical strength and endurance are life-or-death essentials for survival and mission accomplishment in "tip of the spear" fighting battalions that attack the enemy on land.

Stubborn facts clash with Amazon Warrior theories.  In a September 2011 briefing before the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Armed Services, a Marine colonel informed the DACOWITS that on average, women have 47% lower lifting strength, 40% lower muscle strength, 20% lower aerobic capacity (important for endurance), and 26% slower road march speed.  In addition, both female attrition/injury rates during entry level training and discharge (break) rates were twice those of men, and non-deployability rates were three times higher.

Nevertheless, media reports keep focusing on male and female trainees who, as if on cue, sing Pentagon-approved party lines.  We've been told, for example, that teamwork and belief in "mind over body" are enough to overcome physical differences between men and women.  A male trainee talking to Ms. Kooiman suggested that some women can drag others on the ground better than he can.  A woman claimed that heavy physical loads get lighter as the day goes on.  Really?  These politically-correct clichés inspire more skepticism than confidence. 

What's the rest of the story?

The nation is proud of our military women.  They have served with skill and courage "in harm's way" before and after 9/11.  Still, there is no evidence that women are interchangeable with men in direct ground combat units that attack the enemy, such as Army and Marine infantry, armor, artillery, Special Operations Forces and Navy SEALs.

More than thirty years of tests and studies in the U.S. and Britain have repeatedly confirmed physiological differences that would put women at a severe disadvantage in the combat arms.  None of the resulting empirical reports concluded that average women might achieve true "equality" in tough infantry training, much less in actual land combat operations.

Pentagon officials and field commanders nevertheless promise that standards won't be lowered to accommodate women in formerly all-male combat units.  For reasons explained in this Washington Times article, assurances such as this are disingenuous at best:  

Rowan Scarborough: Lower Standards: Pentagon Hints at Changes to Allow More Women in Ground Combat

Pentagon and military services say they are "validating" training standards, but that is not the same as keeping them as high as they are now.  In January, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey suggested that tough training events will be "questioned."   Eventually, regardless of what is being promised now, any training program deemed "invalid" under Pentagon-endorsed "gender diversity" goals will be eliminated, modified, or scored differently with gender-normed allowances. 

Self-Confidence Not Enough

Female trainees interviewed by the Virginian Pilot who weren’t able to drag their male partners across a field after running 100 yards nevertheless insisted that wasn’t a "game-changer" and "the guys here are really nice."  The over-confidence suggests that women are being misled about the true requirements of riverine warfare. 

According to the Virginian Pilot, the current riverine training standards do not assess whether a sailor can carry another person or climb a wall in a firefight; requirements specific to the job are added later.  The basic program follows Navy standards for physical fitness that are gender- and age-specific.  A 20- to 24-year-old man must do at least 37 push-ups and run 1.5 miles in 13.5 minutes, but a woman of the same age must do 16 push-ups and run the same distance with two extra minutes. 

The Pilot acknowledged that the obstacle course was particularly difficult for short women.  Since many were unable to jump and grab a bar or climb a high wall, instructors allowed them to climb on the backs of others.  None managed to climb vertical ropes, but they were "satisfied."  Someone should say that the goal of riverine training is not personal "satisfaction," and battlefields are not gender-normed.  It is not wise or fair to assign anyone to direct ground combat units if they cannot climb high walls and ropes unassisted while under fire. 

In both the Fox News and Virginian Pilot stories, emotional female trainees expressed the hope that their tough training and combat experience would make them better role models for their young daughters.  The rationalization conveys an unintended message: women are less than equal unless they try to be like men.  The truth is that little girls need their mothers more than combat units need them, and a young woman who is confident in her femininity as well as her abilities can do anything in a man's world or anywhere else. 

Female trainees and even unquestioning reporters are not to blame for the Defense Department's determined perception management campaign to push women into land combat.  No one should forget, however, that combat training is not about self esteem; the purpose is to prepare personnel for lethal combat against determined enemies out to kill them.  As George Orwell said of persons who believe what they know to be untrue, at some point delusion will "bump up against solid reality, [probably] on a battlefield." 

Does it make sense to force military women to conform to male standards in the combat arms?  And is it wise to require men to accept compromised standards and moral hazards that detract from effectiveness in close combat?  These questions deserve informed discussion, not public relations efforts that cleverly spin reality to promote politically-correct goals.

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