Friday, January 25, 2013
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, with the full backing and recommendation of the Joint Chiefs, announced that women will soon be allowed to serve in combat arms branches, what the press insists on calling “front line” units. The combat arms branches are traditionally considered Infantry, Armor and Artillery and typically require a 1 to 10 ratio of combat support units. As many of you are aware, I consider most officers to be an impediment to getting things done, so the fact that the Joint Chiefs signed off on this doesn’t immediately convince me of anything. I am, however, the father of a little girl with whom I am constantly striving to imbrue a can do spirit by telling her daily, “Girls can do anything boys can do. You can be the president, a princess or a pirate.” I do not believe however, that means my daughter, nor anyone else’s daughter, should now be allowed to serve in the infantry just because the military hierarchy says it is okay.
Men and women are different. They are not inherently or genetically better or worse. They are just different. I cannot give birth, which doesn’t make me better or worse than the women in my life. I recognize some of the women reading this are mentally inserting inferior into that statement, but that is perfectly fine with me. Males may be inferior when it comes to the reproductive capabilities of the species, and I stress may be because it still takes two to tango. Where males are not inferior though is skeletal muscle mass. According to a perusal of Gray’s Anatomy (the tome not that inane Grey’s Anatomy tv show) the adult male skeletal mass is roughly 42% vs. 36% for adult females. According to US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, that means women are approximately 52% and 66% as strong as men in the upper and lower body respectively. In other words, men are generally stronger than women because they typically have larger bodies and a larger proportion of their total body mass is made up of muscle.
Again, that does not make men better, just different and, as anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of biology can tell you, differences in biology have appeared over millions of years specifically so that the species can adapt, survive and flourish. If we had not done so, the chimp, to paraphrase Charlton Heston, might very well be atop the pony. According to the book, "Physiology of Sports and Exercise," the women's world weightlifting record is just above 250 kg, (450 lbs) while the men's is almost 450 kg (990lbs). That is a function of evolution and something that makes males different from females. “Before puberty, there is no marked difference in muscle mass between males and females, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, or NSCA. Once puberty kicks in, men develop increased levels of testosterone, resulting in broader frames and increased muscle mass. Women, however, experience higher levels of estrogen, which results in more body fat, less muscle and bone mass and lighter total weight than men. Further, women tend to have wider hips. All of these factors equate to slightly less absolute strength and muscle mass for women than men.”
So now that we have, I believe, determined that I am not a misogynist, nor do I believe genetic differences make one sex better than the other, it is time to defend my argument. Women, as a general rule, are simply not suited to the rigors of life in the infantry. That does not mean some women aren’t capable of graduating the Army’s Infantry School at Ft. Benning, GA. As an Irish-Catholic kid I know a few tough Mick Chicks who could probably make the cut, but they are not the norm, nor even an average aspiration. The day to day life in an infantry unit is simply too onerous and physically wracking for women. As a 17 year old infantryman, my maximum encumbrance was around 120 pounds, while I myself weighed just under 140 pounds. It was not until I reached my permanent party that I learned “light infantry’ simple meant there were precious few vehicles to carry anything. Our leather personnel carriers (speed-lace combat boots) were designed for that task and my back shouldered the burden. A 17 year old female, even one of roughly the same weight of 140 pounds, would just have been unable to do what I did, for the same time that I did it.
Understand that I am not speaking in absolutes. I find it somewhat irritating that I must write that sentence, but I am sure someone will give me anecdotal evidence of some female somewhere who could do anything I do better and tell me that, in her day, Brigitte Nielsen could have kicked my ass AND carried my ruck. For the record, I stipulate to those facts. What this discussion entails is the average male and female. I am also quite well aware that the Israel Defense Forces have female infantry. According to the latest statistics I could find, in October 2011, 27 female combat soldiers completed the IDF Ground Forces Training Course, along with 369 male soldiers and were promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant.” That is hardly evidence of anything, much less that the new policy in the US military is behind the times. According to the Israel Briefing Book: Israel Overview- Israel Defense Forces “90% of all military positions in the IDF are available to women,” including the Caracal Battalion, a mixed gender battalion which patrols the Israel-Egypt border, although most serve in armor and artillery units.” The results have been mixed at best and simply Googling the battalion will tell you why.
I am also versed in Maria Botchkareva and the Russian “Battalion of Death.” The battalion was organized as a means to ridicule Russian men into fighting for a cause in which very few believed, and only existed for a few months. The one battle in which they did fight doesn’t bolster the argument for female infantry any more than the small IDF sample. In the lead up to the battle, the Battalion of Death’s all female force was augmented with 21 male officers, a “battle adjutant” and eight male machine gun crews. Immediately before the unit did exit the trenches and “go over the top,” 100 officers and 300 soldiers joined them. The women behaved well under fire, but suffered about a third of their number in casualties. After only a few months in existence all the female units were ordered to disband. The greatest value of these units was propaganda and not any form of military justification. Had their military effectiveness been such that they could fight in sustained campaigns, whether as all female or mixed units, the concept would have gained traction in the Soviet Union, but did not.
The main reason both the IDF and the Russian Army even considered the use of female infantry can be summed up in one word: need. Both have/had little to no other options. Even though the Russian women comported themselves well in battle, it must be noted that their numbers were comprised of above average women, the cream of the crop if you will. We don’t have a need for more infantry recruits, but that is not the intention of the Department of Defense decree. An Army study conducted about 20 years ago found that the average female recruit is about 5 inches shorter, 32 pounds lighter, has about 38 fewer pounds of muscle and roughly 6 pounds more fat than her male counterpart. Women also have significantly less aerobic capability, which means they cannot carry as much, as far and as fast as men and are more susceptible to fatigue. The only way to bridge those biological gaps is to water down the requirements for service. As it stands now, women and men in the military have different standards for physical fitness tests, as do different age groups. Women are required to do push-ups, sit ups and complete a 2 mile run, as are men, but the number required for scoring purposes is less for women. Why? Because the maximum number of reps to earn scores are directly tied to the corresponding biology of the soldier. Just as we wouldn’t expect a 50 year old man to run 2 miles in the same time as a 17 year old, we wouldn’t expect women to do as many push-ups. That’s not to say there aren’t 50 year olds who couldn’t run the 17 and 18 year olds into the mud. My Sgt Major, CSM Guzman did so routinely, but that is not the norm. The fact that some women could do as well as most men is not the norm either. They are the exceptions that prove the rule.
I distinctly remember an Army study from my days as an infantryman that stated unequivocally that no soldier should ever carry more than 50 pounds for any length of time. Since the PRC-77 and its accessories pack that I carried inside my ruck, weighed more than 50 pounds by itself, we found no end of amusement in reading that particular study. I agree with the study that in theory no one should carry excessive weight for long periods of time, but that simply isn’t the way the real world works. Talk to any man who served in the infantry, in any era, and the complaints will be the same: knees, back and shoulders ache constantly and are more problematic as we age. If the average male’s body breaks down from the rigors of the infantry, what will happen to women who have less muscle, etc?
Since we have spent so much time in the theoretical world of women in combat, I would like to say I am friends with a number of women who have comported themselves beyond compare in combat. I even spoke publicly at a 4th of July ceremony a few years ago. I am completely smitten with the American “Lionesses.” I know they can and will fight, but believe that they should not be allowed to attempt to earn the Infantry Blue Cord for the reasons I have stated above. There are other, more pragmatic reasons though. I can remember being riveted to the television when Brian Nichols escaped from the Atlanta Fulton County Jail and went on a killing spree before being recaptured. On the day of his retrial on rape charges, he was being escorted to a cell by Sheriff’s Deputy Cynthia Hall, a 51 year old 5 foot tall, self described “grandmother.” Nichols, a former college linebacker, is 6”1” and somewhere around 200 pounds of muscle. When Hall removed one of Nichols’ handcuffs he suddenly grabbed her, brutally beat her, fracturing her skull and causing brain damage before shooting her with her own weapon. He then went on to kill 4 people, including a judge and court reporter before calmly exiting the courthouse. To say that Deputy Hall should never have been allowed to supervise Nichols is an understatement.
Corrections Officer Susan Canfield was a 59 year old grandmother, and 7 year veteran of the Texas Prison System, when she was killed by two male prisoners during an escape. Officer Canfield was on horseback, supervising a work detail, when she was struck by a vehicle driven by one of the prisoners, dying on the scene from blunt force trauma. A wise man once said to me, “A small man with a stick is not a match for a big man.” I would argue that a woman on horseback is no match for a desperate man with nothing to lose. That’s what this discussion is truly about. It is not about gender equality. It is about what works and what doesn’t. We haven’t even touched on the topic of sexual assault of female infantry, but we all know that women would have to fear that consequence much more so than any male counterpart. I could go into detail about the hows and whys of that, but I simply don’t have the stomach for it. Instead, I’ll leave it to your imaginations.
One part of sexual misconduct I will touch on in a little more depth though relates to an Associated Press article that I read on Military.com a few days ago. It was titled, “Sex is Major Reason Military Commanders are Fired.” I’ll post the link below for anyone who is interested, but the gist of the article is that, “At least 30 percent of military commanders fired over the past eight years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses.” Am I supposed to believe that more interaction, in more confined spaces, under higher levels of stress will lessen the instances of sexual impropriety? In my less than humble opinion, I would say anyone who believes that is simply delusional, misguided and/or has no understanding of the workings of combat units.
Something I have to discuss, albeit briefly, is the notion that this policy is just another attempt to use the military in social engineering to achieve some sort of diversity for purely political ends. I have to disagree with people who say the military is no place for social engineering. In fact, I would offer that it is exactly the place for it. Desegregation, women on ships and in fighter planes have had helped civilian society down the path of acceptance, when no other path could have done it as smoothly. I fervently hope that allowing openly gay members to serve will have similar results on society as a whole. The reasons those examples worked in the military was because there was simply no, good, scientific reason why they shouldn’t. The myth of black male intelligence or dexterity of female pilots was dispelled, not because society wanted them dispelled, but because First Sgts, Sgts Major, Gunnys and Sr Chiefs told everyone that they would accept those changes, whether they liked them or not. Anyone who has ever been on the bad side of one of those ranks can tell you just how quickly prejudices and myths can be dispatched by a foot to your ass from a guy/or gal who walks on water.
Social engineering works in the military because we have to follow orders. Since there is no warrior caste in the United States, we take the lessons learned back into the civilian world when we leave the service. No one cares if the guy who guarded his six was white, black, brown or yellow when the shit hit the fan. They just cared that he wouldn’t break down and would shoot straight when the time came. This social experiment is grounded in a myth though. As I have shown with numerous examples above, men and women are different physiologically and those differences precludes women from becoming members of the Infantry. It doesn’t make women less than in any way. It just is. No woman could be expected to endure the daily rigors of an NFL franchise, at any position, because of the constant brutality. The same is true of the Infantry. I desire total equality for my daughter and would be beyond proud to see her in Army blue one day, but not in the sky blue of the Infantry. That is a “boy’s club” and no females need apply.
Proudly Served 1986-1990
HHC 2/256th Infantry 5th Infantry Division
B Co. 1/9th Infantry Reg. 7th Infantry Division (light)
Article I referenced in the body of my post: