Or­der­ing women into the com­bat grinder

‘Gen­der-normed’ fit­ness stan­dards would put women on the front lines

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Elaine Don­nelly

In a re­cent ed­i­to­rial car­toon, Pres­i­dent Obama is por­trayed as a foot­ball coach telling a suit­edup fe­male player, “Good news! We want you on the front lines.” Don’t laugh. “Coach Obama” re­ally does in­tend to send un­will­ing women into ground com­bat in­fantry teams, which face far more vi­o­lence than pro foot­ball.

Un­der De­fense Depart­ment man­dates, the armed forces are im­ple­ment­ing in­cre­men­tal plans to or­der (not “al­low”) women into Army and Ma­rine in­fantry and spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces that at­tack the enemy. Ac­qui­es­cent gen­er­als in­sist that train­ing stan­dards will be “the same” for men and women, but the fine-print “catch” is hid­den in plain sight.

Footnotes in a June Ma­rine Corps re­port to Congress stated that phys­i­cal fit­ness and com­bat fit­ness Test stan­dards would be “gen­der-neu­tral” with “gen­der-normed” scores that “ac­count for phys­i­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween the gen­ders.” In the Marines’ new phys­i­cal fit­ness test — re­cently post­poned ow­ing to “po­ten­tial risks” — women will have to com­plete three pull-ups. Five more will earn 100 points, but men will have to do 20 to get the same score.

An NFL team could achieve “gen­der diver­sity” in the same way — train­ing en­er­getic, foot­ball-savvy fe­male cheer­lead­ers on lineback­ers’ train­ing-fa­cil­ity ma­chines that are ad­justed for “phys­i­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween gen­ders.” Cheer­lead­ers would suc­ceed in the gen­der-normed gym, but on the grid­iron “bat­tle­field,” none would last be­yond the ref­eree’s first whis­tle.

Ten spir­ited fe­male vol­un­teers have at­tempted the gru­el­ing In­fantry Of­fi­cer Course at Quan­tico, Va., since 2012. Nine women (and some men) washed out on the first day. A few women re­port­edly will suc­ceed in a sim­i­lar ex­per­i­ment at the less-de­mand­ing en­listed Ma­rine In­fantry Train­ing Bat­tal­ion at Camp Geiger, N.C., but an in­for­ma­tion brief stated that gen­der­normed phys­i­cal fit­ness and com­bat fit­ness tests would be part of the “base­line” re­search.

In Jan­uary, Joint Chiefs Chair­man Gen. Martin Dempsey ad­mit­ted that high stan­dards be­yond the abil­i­ties of women will be ques­tioned and mod­i­fied to achieve a “crit­i­cal mass” of women in the com­bat arms. Ser­vice­women his­tor­i­cally have been pro­moted at rates equal to or faster than men, but this hasn’t dis­suaded fem­i­nists from at­tack­ing high, male-ori­ented stan­dards as “bar­ri­ers” to women’s ca­reers.

The mil­i­tary can jus­tify gen­der-spe­cific al­lowances to im­prove fit­ness in ba­sic and en­try-level ex­er­cises, but not in train­ing for in­fantry com­bat, where lives and mis­sions de­pend on in­di­vid­ual strength, en­durance, team co­he­sion and trust for sur­vival. The same el­e­ments are needed in Navy river­ine units, which en­gage in land com­bat from small boats. Navy of­fi­cials are “val­i­dat­ing” coed river­ine train­ing with phys­i­cal readi­ness tests that are gen­der- and agenormed with a “slid­ing scale” of eas­ier re­quire­ments. Me­dia-con­scious in­struc­tors ef­fu­sively praise fe­male trainees, but women are be­ing set up for de­bil­i­tat­ing in­juries both in train­ing and vi­o­lent com­bat.

In 2011, a Ma­rine of­fi­cial ad­mit­ted that on av­er­age, women have 47 per­cent less lift­ing strength, 40 per­cent less mus­cle strength, and 20 per­cent less en­durance ca­pac­ity. Fe­male at­tri­tion, in­jury and dis­charge rates are twice those of men. Gen­er­als who ig­nore th­ese facts are dis­sem­bling shame­lessly.

En­ter Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who wants women in elite Ranger train­ing, field ar­tillery and ar­mor units by July 2014, and in­fantry po­si­tions by July 2015. To achieve “gen­der-neu­tral stan­dards” and “gen­der diver­sity met­rics” (quo­tas), a few ex­cep­tional women might be re­tained in the com­bat arms along with mar­ginal men. This is a sure­fire way to drive re­sent­ment up and tough stan­dards down.

Courageous mil­i­tary women have served in con­tin­gent com­bat, com­ing un­der fire “in harm’s way.” How­ever, re­quire­ments are dif­fer­ent in “tip of the spear” in­fantry fight­ing teams that seek out and at­tack the enemy. Thirty years of stud­ies have con­firmed that in this en­vi­ron­ment, women do not have an equal op­por­tu­nity to sur­vive, or to help fel­low sol­diers and Marines sur­vive.

When un­suit­able as­sign­ments in­crease fe­male in­juries, nec­es­sary ca­reer changes will drain morale and shrink­ing mil­i­tary funds. Ex­cep­tions are un­likely, since Mr. Obama soon will ap­point new lead­ers who will en­force the quo­tas. Pro­mot­ing group rights over in­di­vid­ual merit will not im­prove mil­i­tary com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness.

Congress, un­for­tu­nately, is AWOL on over­sight. The pend­ing de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bill con­tains two-dozen mea­sures fo­cused on sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault, but noth­ing to pre­vent ex­ten­sion of those prob­lems into the com­bat arms. No one no­ticed a re­cent De­fense Depart­ment study find­ing that women who were ex­posed to com­bat re­ported twice as many sex­ual as­saults.

To truly honor and re­spect mil­i­tary women, Congress should cod­ify women’s ex­emp­tions from di­rect ground com­bat, stip­u­lat­ing that the pol­icy may not change with­out an af­fir­ma­tive vote of Congress.

If mil­i­tary stan­dards are de­graded for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, na­tional se­cu­rity will be en­dan­gered, and there will be no go­ing back.

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