Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Women in combat

Plenty has been said and plenty more will be said in the future about how the military will integrate women into combat units.  From my 20 years in the Army, all of it in an infantry unit, I say that there is one essential truth that gets overlooked in the success of the implementation-- whether or not Congress will let the military do it right.

There is no denying the fact that there are women who are fully qualified to serve in combat arms units.  Combat arms covers a large group of direct combat troops; infantry (regular, light, air assault, airborne, Rangers, ect) artillery (howitzers, multiple launch rocket systems, heavy mortars, ect) armor (tanks, mechanized, armored personnel carriers, ect) and others.  Currently, female personnel can't serve in a combat position in these units.  They can serve in support roles in these units.  Thus my infantry battalion (2-135 in southern MN) has a transportation company attached to it that has females assigned as truck drivers, mechanics and cooks.  Among the female soldiers in that transportation unit, there are a handful of women that are easily more physically qualified than some of the male infantry soldiers.

But the minimum standards for women are different from the minimum standards for men in the Army.

As you can see above, females need to do only 1/3 of the pushups that a same aged male needs to do to pass.  Situp standards are identical, but females have an extra 3 minutes to complete the 2 mile run portion of the PT test.  So the obvious question becomes; will the Army require female soldiers in combat arms units be able to pass the same minimum standards as male soldier?  The Army hasn't said yet.  There are no separate physical standards for male soldiers who are combat arms vs support personnel.  So a male soldier has to do the same minimum standard whether they are infantry or Judge Advocate General.

The concern here is upper body strength, and this is a valid concern by male soldiers.  The current fighting load for an infantry squad member is 64 pounds.  That is how much gear, body armor, weapon, and ammunition weight you need to be able to carry and fight at the same time.  Think of that, 64 pounds.  That's 2 1/2 cinder blocks.   9 of the large 1/2 inch 10 foot long rebar rods.  One 27 pack of roof shingles.  Your basic push lawn mower.

But the 64 pounds you wear on you in the heat of battle isn't the issue.  It's the 240 pounds you need to be able to lift or pull on top of the 64 you are wearing.  Because the real concern most male soldiers have is if they get hit, someone has to pull them out of the line of fire.  So a female soldier, herself wearing at least 64 pounds of gear, needs to be able to lift or drag an additional 240 pounds (average soldier body weight of 180, plus their 64 pounds of gear) to an area of safety.  How many women do you know in your daily life that can carry 300 pounds in the heat of combat? 

But there are some who can.  So the order to integrate women will be successful, if the military is allowed to pick the right women to fill open positions they are qualified for.  What would prevent the military from doing that?  Congress of course.  Now that women are allowed in combat, Congress will have a vested interest in keeping tabs on how the integration is going.  And to be sure, they do have an oversight function, to make sure the military isn't sluffing on integration.  But Congress is notorious for not letting things happen at their own pace-they want results now.  So Congress will, inevitably, demand that the military integrate women at a rate faster than qualified female candidates can be found.  So, inevitably, the military will have to lower their standards for females in combat units to accept any woman willing to apply.  That's where we will end up with a female not able to perform, and lives may be lost. 

The military can make women in combat work, if Congress will let them do it according to the rules. 

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