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Infantrywomen: What the Evaluations Are Not Considering

Monday, January 26, 2015

January 1, 2016, is the deadline for the military services to integrate women into the Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery and Special Forces combat units. It is contended that this will offer an equal opportunity for advancement up the promotion chain to the highest levels of command for both men and women.

Many tests, surveys and polls have been conducted during the past year, most of which have determined that physical strength and stamina will have to be gender-normed in order for the requirements to be fair and equally achieved; if they are gender-neutral, the standards will have to be much less demanding.

Test results and surveys have not been widely disseminated, but leakage seems to establish that men are five to six times more likely to meet standards being tested. This does not deny that some women are able to match the average male measurements, but very few match the higher scores posted by many men. Such findings are no surprise to anyone who recognizes that we have separate Olympic events for men and women, we have separate professional sports leagues, and we have separate world’s records for most everything requiring physical skills. The first woman to finish the Boston Marathon, who comes in ahead of a thousand men, also loses to a hundred or so men who crossed the line minutes before her.

For some reason, there have not been tests, surveys, polls or agitation aimed at integrating women into the Chicago Bears or the St. Louis Cardinals, and no demand that the Professional Golfers’ Association and Ladies Professional Golf Association be merged so women have an equal opportunity to be golfer of the year or win the money title. Apparently, however, the armed forces are different. Despite the fact that infantry warfare is often a life-or-death matter, quite often requiring strength and stamina to survive, we are asked to man our teams at a reduced capability.

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Sgt. Amanda Olmeda in an observation tower on Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan. (Credit: U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class John D. Brown)

I am not aware of the names or qualifications of the various study groups or the means and values used by the testers that are determining the final recommendations. I hope, however, that they have consulted with some combat infantry veterans—for example, those who fought in the Huertgen Forest, Pointe du Hoc, the Battle of the Bulge, Pork Chop Hill, Outpost Harry, the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir or Hamburger Hill—and their views on whether their effectiveness would be improved or diminished or perhaps not affected at all if wives, mothers, sisters or daughters had been present. Those were all occasions that resembled line play in the National Football League without the rules that prevent lethal mayhem.

None of us wants to deny women the right to military careers. Nobody wants to question their determination to excel or to interfere with their willingness to die for their country, but we want them to do those things in positions at which they do as well or better than men. Infantry combat is not one of them.

The advocates for this policy change do not seem to realize that assigning women to the Infantry will consign them to second-class status. Most will be less capable than their male counterparts, and their efficiency reports, always a comparative measurement, will have a negative impact on their assignments and promotions. Their careers will be affected—probably stunted—unless, of course, a quota system that will further reduce squad, platoon and company effectiveness is adopted.

The armed forces are again complying with policy dictates of our government, and they deserve credit for the exhaustive effort expended to find a way. We can only hope that a final review of the effects of the proposal will result in reconsideration and a decision that the policy be abandoned. Congress, constitutionally the provider of our national defense, should make the final decision.