What a female near the front lines thinks of women in combatPosted on January 27th, 2013 No comments
I regret to admit that back in high school I wasn’t that close with my friend, LCC, but over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know her better on Facebook. Today, she’s a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy reserve, and I feel honored to know her. I recently posted on Facebook asking for LCC’s opinions on women in combat in the U.S. military
Spurred by the recent push by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to put our mothers, sisters and daughters on the front lines, I’ve been torn on this topic. Many on the right wonder if we’ve been wrong for 200 years, or if sending women into battle will improve America’s military.
What follows is a slightly modified transcript of our thread on Facebook.
Me: I want to know what you think about women on the front lines. It seems “fair” now, but what if they re-institute the draft? What then?
LCC: First, it’s about freaking time. Jobs should be open based on skills and abilities, not reproductive organs.
Second, I think women should have to register for the draft. And I also like the idea of compulsory service, although I would suggest making it “service” not “military service.” I don’t want people compelled to be in the military—that results in a less capable force, and I don’t want someone who is non-committed to be the only thing standing [sic] between me and the bad guy.
Me: I would like to think I’d be brave enough to stand between you and the bad guy, but I know I’m not. Do you think women can handle combat?
LCC: Most women won’t be able to do it. That’s a fair statement. As long as the ones who can are allowed to, all is well. And it’s not just about our “rights” — it’s also about ensuring you have the best people where you need them.
Me: How do you think women should be measured up to their male counterparts, physically? How would you handle that?
LCC: My answer to the inevitable questions on physical standards is this: It’s perfectly appropriate to have different measures of overall fitness for men and women. If you take a man in great shape, and a woman in great shape, on average, the man will be able to do more push ups and run faster due to physiology. Abdominal strength doesn’t have the same kind of difference between the sexes. In effect, requiring everyone to hit the same numbers would require a woman to be in better shape than her male peer.
That said, that’s only on tests designed to measure general fitness. If a job has certain physical requirements, then anyone doing that job should have to be able to meet them, and whether you’re male, female, or whatever is irrelevant.
Those requirements should be reasonable and demonstrably tied to the job—in other words, fair game to say that you have to be able to drag a 200lb dummy at least 100 yards (or whatever you would typically be expected to do in battle). Not fair game to say “this job is physical…you have to be able to do 300 push ups.” Some fire departments tried to do that to keep women out when they were told they had to let them in if they could meet the standards. It would be equally unfair to design tests that deliberately take advantage of typically female attributes (I can see where there could be jobs where being smaller would be an advantage, but not necessary to do the job. It would be unfair to create a test that focuses on that—you’d be making it tough for most men who would otherwise be considered fit for the job to pass).
We have plenty of jobs with size restrictions because you have to be able to use equipment. Others say you have to meet certain hearing and vision standards. Those are all specifically tied to the requirements of the job. As long as they stick to that, we’ll be fine.
Me: So, in every platoon, the smallest guys aren’t as physically strong as the largest guys, but they still made it there. Many women who aren’t currently allowed in might be bigger and stronger than some of the smaller guys already there, right?
LCC: Exactly. In every unit, you have a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Not every man is at the top of the charts on every measure of physical strength. It’s a combination of skills, with some level of physical ability that truly is required, that makes each person a solid contributor. So even if a woman ends up being the person who can do fewest push ups, that doesn’t mean her overall role in the unit isn’t solid. And she might well be the best shot in the bunch. Or the best something else.
And it’s also important to note that being “weakest” on any given attribute is not the same as being “weak.” Would anyone call the person who finishes last in an Olympic race “slow?”
Me: Wow, I just learned a lot of things I didn’t know about women in the military. Everything you said makes perfect sense so far. But, what about the charge that women who get captured in combat will be raped? And what about women on long tours of duty with men from their own company? Do you think more shenanigans will go down in our barracks?
LCC: As far as sexual assault goes (the other reason often cited for women in combat being a bad idea), everything I’ve ever read on the subject says that when respect for women goes up, sexual assault goes down. Seems to me that while we might have issues initially, when women are not classified as inherently inferior and have the opportunity to prove themselves in the same arenas, we’ll have a better shot at women being seen as true equals.
Me: What about male soldiers making dumb decisions in combat situations to protect their female counterparts?
LCC: I’ve heard [sic] the arguments about how men won’t be able to handle seeing women getting killed around them, or they’ll risk themselves to “save” women who are down. To the second point, yes, they probably will. Just like they do to save their male comrades in arms. In my experience, when you’re competent and pulling your own weight, you quickly become “one of the guys.” I’d expect in a battle situation, you’d see warfighters pulling each other off the battlefield when necessary — and you’d see both men and women on BOTH sides of that equation.
Me: Haven’t women been in support roles very close to the front lines for awhile now anyway?
LCC: I’d say that we’ve been in combat for quite awhile. The “front lines” are amorphous—I rarely left my base, and my barracks still got blown up with a whole bunch of us in it. We also have women “attached” to combat units — going out on patrols, into villages, etc. The ban simply allowed a final bastion of discrimination that has been illegal almost everywhere else for decades, and prevented women from getting proper “credit” for work they were already doing.
Not that I have strong feelings about this stuff.
ME: LOL. I asked you about your personal opinion about women in the military specifically because I knew you’d have strong opinions, and they’d be much more informed than my own. Can I quote you on my blog?
LCC: I don’t have a blog, so you are welcome to it. But everything here is my opinion/thoughts alone, not necessarily the position of DoD or the Navy. That’s important, because when I’m in uniform, my job is often to be a spokesperson for one or the other. I am most definitely NOT spouting off in that capacity here!
Well, folks, there you have an honest personal opinion who’s been close to our front lines for quite some time now. Like every issue in the public, political sphere, there’s much more to it than meets the eye, and I always try to ask someone who has her finger on the pulse of an issue before I make up my mind.
Thank you for your opinions, your voice, and your service, LCC, you’re much braver than I, and a patriot, and I salute you.
May God protect you, and future U.S. women, out there protecting our freedom on the front lines.
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