It’s official; women are now permitted to serve in all military occupations regardless of whether it is a combat role or not. As Secretary Ashton Carter put it “there will be no exceptions, they’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat.” But, almost as soon as the words came from Sec. Carter’s lips, there were those who proclaimed how this decision was a mistake and would lead to decreased readiness, deterioration of morale and a lessening of standards. So, is this a change that was long overdue or a political statement sure to be the downfall of the greatest military on earth?
Opponents to the opening of combat roles for females are not hard to find. Soldiers past and present, high-ranking leaders and even currently-serving female service members have gone on record openly voicing their opposition. Some claim that female service members are physically unable to perform tasks such as lugging mortars or even the ever increasing full kit of an infantryman. Others are certain that having a mixed crew in small or isolated units, such as tank crew or forward observation posts, will result in a breakdown in morale (otherwise known as fraternization). Finally, there are those who believe that opening roles in special units such as Rangers, SEALS or Air Force PJ’s will require a lessening of standards which equals a decrease in ability. The list goes on, but you get the picture – women in combat roles are BAD!
On the surface, each of these articles appears valid. Statistically, women are physically weaker than their male counterparts. Having young males and females in close quarters day in and day out is going to result in a certain amount of undesirable liaisons. If requirements for specific positions, especially those in the special operation community, are lowered to allow women to participate then it is certain to affect overall unit performance. But, these are not new situations or concerns; the only thing new is which group they are being applied to.
Not long ago, many of these same arguments were heard following the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Not only did the open service by gay and lesbian members not result in the panic and mayhem predicted, it could be argued that morale is even better as the service members most impacted can now live openly and without fear of losing their careers. Before that, these same arguments were used to describe what would result if African Americans were permitted to serve in a role other than stewards and cooks. Of course, someone forgot to tell the Tuskegee Airmen or the U.S. Navy’s first African-American Master Diver MCPO Carl Brashear – who was also the first amputee to return to full dive duty after losing a leg. Over and over, the same general arguments have been applied to whichever minority was facing the expansion of their military service. Each time, the results have been the same – growing pains, but no long term damage.
Having served on a Cutter during its opening to female crew members, I can admit that there will be growing pains. No matter what steps are taken regarding increased sensitivity training or intensified enforcement of the no fraternizing policies, nothing will stop these problems from occurring. Crew members will be greeted by surprise wedding announcements on the mess deck or bulletin board, and both male and female members will have difficulty adjusting to their new roles. Again, this is no different than what occurred following each of the previously discussed transitions. Undoubtedly, after a period of unrest, everyone will find their way and our dedicated service members will march on.
The only real possibility for trouble concerns the possible lowering of standards. Those who claim that lowering standards to allow women to participate in specific roles including special operations will result in an overall reduction in unit readiness have a point. Of course, this does not need to happen; after all, opening positions to female service members does not mean automatic selection any more than those same positions being open to all males means everyone qualifies to be a Ranger or SEAL. There will still be a selection process, and there will still be standards. Even if those standards were adjusted for female participants, how is that any different than doing the same thing for candidates of different ages? As long as the standards are fair, based upon the actual position requirements and applied across the board, things should eventually work themselves out.
In my opinion, the previously mentioned arguments are merely a smoke screen for what is at the heart of the issue – human nature. It is human nature to resist change and, in most civilized nations, it is also in our nature to protect our female members. No one wants to think about our daughters, wives or sisters being placed in harm’s way. For centuries, the male members have marched to war and one of the foremost reasons has been to protect these same people from the horrors of an invading army, allowing them to face that enemy head on is almost unfathomable. Again, history will prove us wrong just as it did when women were allowed to become police officers, firefighters and a whole range of other high-risk professions.
The next few months, even years, will involve growing pains for all involved; commanders will need to re-evaluate a wide range of logistical issues, unit leaders will face situations they have not been trained for, and individual members will need to examine their own roles. Mistakes will undoubtedly be made, and arguments will continue, but eventually a common ground will be found and adjustment made. In the end, the once-inconceivable notion of women in combat will sound as absurd as African Americans flying fighter planes.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.