Friday, February 22, 2013

Women in the Infantry?

Women in the Infantry?

I first need to begin this post with a disclaimer. Not because of any offensive or controversial subject matter but because I have failed to achieve the proper mindset necessary for 'attacking' this kind of subject.

A good friend of mine, who knows the most intimate details about my opinion on this matter, read my draft copy of this post and said, "Jim! Get angry! Let the hate flow through you!" So, I walked down to my local convenience store and bought a 12 of PBR in order to tap into my inner Clint Eastwood (GET OFF MY LAWN!). I then assembled a list of tracks I deem necessary for pushing me to the Dark Side, which may or may not have worked..


Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with a diverse group of people to discuss the new Department of Defense mandate that the military open up billets in combat units to women. The discussion was pretty lively, if not completely one sided. The main (if not only) proponent for the addition of women into combat roles was Martha McSally. On the other side were several women, to include Retired USMC Gunnery Sgt. Jessie Jane Duff, and then myself, the lone male in the group.

Before I get into the meat of my perspective on this particular issue I want to make a couple of things clear. The first is that women have encountered combat in the past decade, just like the rest of the force, and served admirably. On a more personal level my mother, aunt, grandmother and one of my female cousins have all stepped up, put on a uniform at some point during a time of war. I also come from a long line of war fighters, more specifically Infantryman. In more recent history, my father was a Marine and wounded twice in Vietnam, my grandfather was in the second wave of Marines to land on Iwo Jima, my other grandfather was a career Air Force Officer. Serving in WWII, the Berlin Airlift, Korea, and Vietnam.

In short, while only two family members (from either side) have made a career of the military, I can trace my lineage to every American War dating back to the French and Indian and to European conflicts even further back in history. I myself was a Sgt in the Marine Corps Infantry and the phone call to my father after rating a Combat Action Ribbon was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had managed to carry on the war fighter legacy for another generation.

All of that to say: Women entering the Infantry is a hot button issue for me, not as an abstract policy decision, but on a very personal level.

I see this as an attempt to create social progress or make a social statement at the expense of those who put their lives on the line.

Pure and simple, it's nothing short of self promotion... which is ironic given that Infantry units abhor the concept of the individual.

It is preached to the point of mantra that tightly knit teams win wars, while individuals get people killed.

Let's break this down.

1. This is unfair to women.

Plain and simple, if you admit women into the Infantry, you must ask them to be men. This is completely unfair, as women are not physically just smaller men - they are completely different. Now, this is not the same as equality in society - that is a completely separate issue.

In society writ large there are examples of these physical differences. One of these is the Olympics, where there are separate events for both men and women. As Ms. Duff pointed out during our discussion, women have 50% less upper body strength, and 25% less lung capacity. Because of this reality, the physical standards for women in the military are significantly and justifiably lower. The Infantry itself is a lot like your university's football team. They're a bunch of mouth breathing, knuckle dragging, testosterone charged, physical machines (to be clear I say this out of love). These men didn't join the Infantry because the uniforms were cool or they wanted money for college. They joined to push themselves to the limits of human endurance, and well, because over the past 10 years were promised a chance to take a shot at another human being... legally.

Do you really want your daughter hanging out with men who have that mentality?

Additionally, you are opening up the door to a world of backlash as well. The Army has already mandated that not only will women attend Ranger School, but any who are dismissed must be justified to the highest level of command. This is precisely the kind of treatment that creates resentment and makes it harder for women to co-exist in the military with men.

2. The Infantry as a sub-culture.

BLUF: The Infantry exists for one purpose and that is to kill people.

Anyone can try to paint a rosier picture of what grunts do; nation build, hand out soccer balls, etc. but, when it comes down to it, throughout history Infantrymen have hunted down the enemy and killed him.

Intrantrymen are not diplomats, negotiators, social crusaders, or explicit advocates of human rights. They are the men who are sent in when diplomatic channels fail, in order to influence other groups of people through the application of violence. In all other segments of society, except in criminal elements, violence is preached against, avoided, and except in the rarest of circumstances, illegal. In an Infantryman's world, violence is actively sought out, and participating in a gunfight is not only sought out, it is a standard by which you are judged. As this is a primal kind of existence all things are judged by whether or not they make you more effective in combat. That is to say, does this policy enable you to take life more effectively, or does it put you and your fellow grunts more at risk of losing your own. Everything boils down to exploitation of weakness and preservation of your own. Needless to say this is very different from the day-to-day in everyday America.

As a result, the Infantry is probably the least politically correct and most exclusive group in America. It's allowed to be, it HAS to be. This is not to say that Grunts are sexist men who drive fancy cars and are haggled by the Paparazzi. Fairness in the Infantry is pure. It is simple. It is determined by how effective your unit is on the battlefield. The more elite the unit, the more 'unfair' the entry standards are, and the more 'unfair' the fight is for the enemy. Anything which hinders your ability to dominate your battlespace is stripped out. As an individual you are constantly evaluated to determine your worth, more specifically, whether or not you are a liability. We eat our own. If it is determined that a new member is weak or undependable, every attempt is made to get rid of that person by any means necessary. Additionally, these screening methods, which would boil the blood of activists across the country, has a very unique effect which isn't really witnessed in any other institution. All races and creeds present understand what is at stake and all stand together because you're held to the same murderous standard. There's a saying, "All Marines are Green" and unlike anywhere else, in Grunt units it's true.

Why is it important not to alter this equation?

Because it's a methodology that works... and has to work, because if it doesn't then we no longer have the most effective fighting force in the world. Additionally, it is inherent to the existence of Infantry units that they are able to police their own. This mandate is the exact opposite of this, and opens the door for groups, many of whom have no association with the military at any level, to determine the correct way for such units to conduct themselves.

More to the point, if the calculus is altered, our people, my peers, die. So, if we have the most capable and lethal ground combat force on the planet, it isn't broken. If it isn't broken, what are we trying to fix?

3. There is a marked difference between 'Combat' and 'Sustained Ground Combat Operations'

Combat in its simplest definition entails that shots are exchanged between two hostile groups. This can last a few seconds, minutes, or hours. Combat, or what is commonly known as a 'firefight' can occur at any point. Typically non-infantry units who are attacked, seek to respond with force to get away from the attack, or 'out of the kill zone'. They do not seek to necessarily close with and destroy hostile forces. In essence, the less time engaged with the enemy, the better.

Sustained ground combat operations , as conducted by infantry units, are quite the opposite. If an infantry unit encounters hostility in an area, their focus becomes driving the enemy from that area. Unlike non-Infantry units, Grunt units will keep going back until the threat is eliminated. This means days, weeks or months away from any kind of comfort, while you constantly move around looking for a fight. Fundamentally, it is an assertion of dominance and control. It is a primal an animalistic existence. This kind of attitude is shunned and feared in today's main stream society. However, in warfare it is inherent that you act this way, because if you do not, your opponent will. Once a specific area is under control, leadership then finds a new area in which to repeat the process. Infantrymen do this day in and day out for the length of their deployment. In the "War On Terror" these types have deployments have ranged from 7 to 18 months in duration.

Now, take this attitude which is completely contrary to societal norms, and do it with a series of factors which make degrade your ability to be effective. First, strap on around 100lbs of additional equipment, thereby making you slow, cumbersome, and constantly uncomfortable. Next, remove a regular meal schedule, which makes you weak. Finally, only sleep for a couple hours at a time, usually in your gear and when it's too hot to move, as many Infantry units operate mainly at night. All of this reaches a crescendo when it's combined with the ever present reminder that any mistake you make can cost your peers life and limb. This is not your typical day job, and it is not a place for social experimentation. As if it's some kind of lab set up to 'see' if certain people can hack it or not. This environment is the complete opposite of that. It is the ultimate crucible of human physical and emotional endurance, which only the most capable people should apply.

4. It can physically break off even the strongest men ...
(Read the rest at linked article)

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