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Double-Think and Dissembling About Double Standards in Combat

November 14, 2013
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President Barack Obama is pushing hard for women in direct ground combat units, to include Army and Marine infantry and Special Operations Forces.  Under Defense Department mandates for "gender diversity," women will be incrementally ordered (not "allowed") into land combat battalions by January 2016. 

Acquiescent military service chiefs keep insisting that training requirements will be "the same," implying standards will be as high as before.  However, as the Center for Military Readiness reports in this CMR Policy Analysis, the fine print "catch" is hidden in plain sight: 

Double-Think About Double Standards
"Gender-Neutral" Training To Include Gender-Normed Scores

Footnotes in a June Marine Corps report to Congress admitted that "gender-neutral" standards will include fitness tests that use "gender-normed" scores.  For example, to pass the Marines' new Physical Fitness Test (PFT) going into effect in January, women will have to do three pull-ups − just above the failing grade for men.  Eight pull-ups will earn 100 points for women, but only 40 points for men.  To get the same 100-point grade, men will have to do 20pull-ups.  (Due to concerns about "potential risks," the Marines recently postponed women's pull-up requirements into 2014.)

Another contradictory footnote described three events in the Marines' Combat Fitness Test (CFT) as "gender-neutral," even though the test is "gender-normed, similar to the PFT, in order to account for physiological differences between the genders." 

The Combat Fitness Test, revised in 2009, replaced the simpler CFT pass-fail system with one using gender-normed scores.  Men and women do the same three physical exercises in the CFT, but the scoring system awards extra points to women.  For 17-26 year-olds, a man earning 189 points or less fails the course, but a woman performing at the same level earns high marks. 

In the fall of 2012 the Marines invited female officers to volunteer for training on the extremely demanding Infantry Officer Course (IOC) at Quantico, VA.  Ten spirited female volunteers have attempted the grueling IOC since last year, but nine women (and some men) did not succeed beyond the first day.   

Now the Marines are conducting a similar experiment at the Infantry Training Battalion (ITB) School of Infantry (East) at Camp Geiger, NC, which trains enlisted men for the infantry on less demanding a course.  According to an Information Brief  released on September 25, the Physical Fitness and Combat Fitness Tests will be part of the Infantry Training Battalion program for enlisted personnel.  This is significant, since PFT and CFT standards are gender-normed and not the same for men and women.   

The Marines are doing with female trainees what the NFL would never do.  Imagine a National Football League team trying to achieve "gender diversity" with similar obfuscations.  Energetic, football-savvy female cheerleaders could train on the same exercise machines that linebackers use, if the equipment is (quoting the Marine report) "adjusted to account for physiological differences between genders."   The cheerleaders would succeed in the gender-normed training facility, but if they are sent out to face the opposing team's linebackers, none would last beyond the referee's first whistle. 

Gender-specific allowances to improve fitness can be justified in basic and entry-level exercises.  They are not acceptable in training for infantry combat, where lives and missions depend on individual strength, endurance, team cohesion, and trust for survival. 

Traditionally all-male Navy riverine units, for example, engage in land combat from small boats.  According to the Virginian-Pilot, Navy officials are validating co-ed riverine training with physical readiness test (PRT) standards for fitness that are gender- and age-normed with a "sliding scale" of slower and easier requirements. 

In the presence of reporters, instructors flatter female trainees with effusive praise.  Pentagon pressure for "success," however, sets up women for debilitating injuries in training and in actual combat.  In a 2011 Pentagon briefing, the Marines admitted that female attrition/injury rates during entry level training and discharge (break) rates are twice those of men, and non-deployability rates are three times higher. 

The same thing likely will happen in Army Ranger training, which Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno intends to make co-ed.  The Army plans to order (not "allow") women into previously all-male field artillery and armor units by July 2014, and infantry positions by July 2015.  When unsuitable assignments result in debilitating injuries, necessary reassignments of women will divert thousands of dollars from shrinking Army funds.

Practices that nullify promises of "gender-equality" in the infantry are beginning to echo President Obama on health care: "If you like tough training in your infantry, you can keep it.  Period. "  Today's promises won't matter when the president appoints new military leaders who will quietly change officer and enlisted infantry training programs to promote "gender diversity metrics," another name for quotas.

Our military women have served with courage in contingent or incident-related combat, coming under fire "in harm's way."  Requirements are different, however, in "tip of the spear" infantry and Special Operations Forces teams that attack the enemy under fire.  Thirty years of studies and reports in the United Kingdom as well as the United States have confirmed that in the close combat environment, women do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or to help fellow soldiers survive.

In 2002 and again in 2010, the United Kingdom decided not to assign women to the infantry for various reasons, including a failed experiment with "gender-free" training that was ended after 18 months due to excessive female injuries.

In January Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey admitted that high standards beyond the abilities of women will be questioned.  Training programs deemed "invalid" will be eliminated, modified, or scored differently to achieve what Gen. Dempsey called a "critical mass" of women in the combat arms.

As in the past, Pentagon feminists will never accept high standards they consider to be "barriers" to women's careers.  Enlisted women, who outnumber female officers five to one, will pay the price for career opportunities for a few female officers, even though, for decades, women have been promoted at rates equal to or faster than men.

Attempts to induct a few exceptional women would require retention of marginal men who would otherwise wash out.  If Pentagon officials want to increase resentment of women in the military, this is a sure-fire way to do it. 

Intangible qualities such as unit cohesion, morale, and trust for survival are even more important than physical strength.  Naive policies that extend complicated, still-unresolved problems of sexual misconduct into the combat arms will make them worse, not better.  A recent Defense Department study found that reports of sexual assault are almost twice as high among female troops who were exposed to contingent combat while deployed in war zones.

To truly honor and respect military women, Congress should take these issues seriously.  As CMR has explained in a proposal called "Sound Policy for Women In the Military." Congress should codify women's exemptions from direct ground combat, with the stipulation that the policy may not change without an affirmative vote of Congress. 

Proponents of further change should bear the burden of proof in showing how such changes would benefit both military women and men, while strengthening combat arms in the All-Volunteer Force.  When military standards are corrupted for political reasons, national security is endangered and there will be no going back. 

 

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