GI Jennifer

When the Department of Defense announced that it would be opening combat roles to women, I immediately began receiving questions regarding my opinion on this issue.  I strove mightily to be noncommittal, and begged off for the most part because I really didn’t want to poke the sore.  Then, a couple of days ago, 2LT Sage Santegelo wrote an OpEd in the Washington post decrying the “double standard” she endured, which made her fail the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course, and so I decided to blog.  Against my wife’s better judgment, because no matter what I type I’m going to aggravate someone, here’s what I think.

First, whenever I hear this issue debated, the two sides are typically talking about separate topics, and neither seems to understand that.  The argument has two consistent points:  A. Should woman engage in direct combat, with all the baggage that entails, and B. Can woman handle the physical demands of the Military Occupational Specialties that engage in direct combat, whether bullets are flying or not.

I’m not going to deal with point A, since it’s a sociological element beyond the scope of this blog.  I don’t know whether or not America will crumble if women start coming home in body bags, or whether unit cohesion will be destroyed because all the males will be focused on either protecting the females or trying to bed them.  Only another war, with multiple engagements over time, will decide that fate.  I will say that, personally, I have no problem with women engaging in direct combat, and have known plenty of females on active duty who I would not have any reservations whatsoever being on my left or right during a fire-fight.  It isn’t a question of the female gender’s leadership, courage or judgment.

Point B, on the other hand, does cause me some concern.  People say this issue is no different than the integration of the Army in the fifties and sixties, but to me, that makes about as much sense as all the talking heads who compare Vietnam to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Topically, there are some similarities, but at the root, where the solution will be found, they are profoundly different.  The fact remains that women and men are not the same.  Period.  Most of the differences are irrelevant, but one is not: Women, as a gender, are inherently physically weaker than men.  I know that might mark me as a chauvinist, but it’s simply a fact, and that fact could very well cause someone’s death.

My argument here is about selected units, and not combat in and of itself.  People may be scratching their heads right now, saying, “But one of your primary characters is Jennifer Cahill, a woman you put in combat situations.  Even Pike Logan appreciates her abilities.”  And that’s absolutely true.  There are plenty of combat units in which females are currently banned from serving within, but only because of point A – engaging in combat.  Point B – the physical demands of the job – doesn’t really come into play.  Not all combat jobs are equal in physical demands.  Can females drive a tank?  Sure.  Can they fire artillery?  You bet.   They can fly a fighter, drive a submarine, man an air defense gun, be a combat engineer, and successfully tackle a plethora of other combat jobs  out there if they want to get their jihad on.  In fact, they may actually be better equipped than men for some of them.  A recent study showed that woman, who make up 10% of the Army aviation corps, only account for 3% of accidents, and that mixed-gender Apache crews had better performance than all-male crews.  But there are also combat jobs that require enough physical ability to mandate keeping a ban on those specific occupational specialties.  This very thing can be seen on the national sports stage.  There’s a reason that Danica Patrick can race NASCAR competitively but there aren’t any woman in the NFL, and it’s all about physical ability.  If we want true gender equality, then let’s stop having the Olympics with females racing females and males racing males.  Throw them all in together.  In the 2012 summer Olympics, the fastest female marathon time ever recorded would have finished in 20th place against the males.

This entire turmoil started, like most things in America, with a lawsuit brought by four female service members who stated they were being discriminated against because of their gender.  In effect, they didn’t have the same opportunities for advancement because they weren’t allowed to get shot at.  In the words of one, “I left in 2011 when my active commitment was complete, in large part because I felt the combat exclusion policy limited my opportunities in the military.”  On the whole, I find this a straw man argument.  The highest ranking general our country ever had – General Eisenhower – was in charge of not only all of American forces during World War II, but ALL allied forces in the greatest war the world has ever seen, and he hadn’t served a single day in combat.  Not one.  In fact, he spent most of his time in staff positions.  He was promoted because of his capabilities, period, not because of some mythical badge of honor after having been shot at.  And the promotions were deserved, as history will attest. The straw man of “limited opportunity” does not hold up.  In modern combat, from Desert Storm through Operation Enduring Freedom, for every combat arms position there have been roughly three support positions, mostly filled by men who will never see combat.  Are we to believe that 70% of the military has no hope for advancement?

The purpose of our military is to fight and win our nation’s wars.  Period.  It isn’t a social experiment designed to make sure everyone gets everything they want, regardless of the needs of national defense.

The fact is that males and females have different physical abilities, and all the wishing in the world won’t change that.  The Army has had lower physical training standards for females as long as there have BEEN standards, not because it’s patronizing of women, but because females as a group are simply not as strong as men. A multitude of physiological studies have been conducted to define what PT Test is best suited for determining fitness for the Army, and the Army Physical Fitness Test has gone through multiple changes – four in my time in the military alone – but one thing has always remained consistent: The male standard was higher than the female standard.  Currently, for a 20-year-old male to pass the pushups with the bare minimum – in effect, do just enough to remain in the Army – he needs to do 42 (for the uninitiated, a score of 60 is minimum on any Army APFT event).  For a 20 year old female to get the maximum score possible – be the top, ass-killing cream of the crop – she needs to do the exact same.  42 pushups. The bare minimum time for males to remain in the Army on the 2 mile run is 15 minutes and 54 seconds.  A perfect score for females is 15 minutes and 36 seconds. This isn’t a reflection of chauvinism in the US Army.  It’s a reflection of basic facts gleaned through years of research.  In the Marines, every male has to do a minimum of 3 pullups.  The females have to do what’s called a flexed-arm hang, basically hanging from the bar for a minimum of fifteen seconds.  The Marines decided to make all standards the same, and chose the 3 pullup minimum.  Before they were set to implement it Marine Corps wide, they tested it at recruit training.  55% of the females failed, causing them to reconsider, as they might be forced to kick out a hell of a lot of Marines.

Once again, I’m not saying keep the ban on women in combat as a blanket statement, but I DO think we need to be smart about how we integrate.  Certain combat units are physically demanding, and that physicality is beyond what the average female can accomplish – especially over the long term.  Before I get stoned as a Neanderthal, I’m not the only one who says this.  Last summer, a Marine Corps Captain made the same argument, stating that females have no place in the infantry.  The captain speaks from the experience of two separate deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan working alongside the infantry, and the toll it took on her body.  Yes, the captain is a female.  More importantly, a collegiate athlete, and a Marine.  She gave her opinion in an article for the Marine Corps Gazette because the Marines were about to admit the first two females to their infantry training as a precursor to what we are debating today.  Both failed.  Since that time, fourteen females have attempted the course, and all have failed.  Only one made it to the second day (make no mistake, a ton of men failed as well).

2LT Santegelo makes the case that because she was treated like a female in OCS, with female standards, she wasn’t prepared for the follow-on Infantry course.  In effect, a self-licking ice cream cone – and an unintentionally embarrassing indictment of her mindset.  So she knew she was going to the Infantry Officer’s school, and knew her physical training was not as rigorous as the males, and yet did nothing on her own to prepare?  Does she not realize that there isn’t a man out there who, before attempting Ranger school, Special Forces Assessment and Selection, or Navy BUD/S, did not rely solely on his unit PT, but instead put in the extra sweat and hours to ensure success?  In her words, “Female lieutenants aren’t as prepared as male lieutenants for the Infantry Officer Course’s tests of strength and endurance because they’ve been encouraged to train to lesser standards.”  So because the Marine Corps didn’t dictate a harder PT schedule she failed to make it past day one?  And that’s the Marine Corps’ fault for treating her like a female to begin with?  But I digress.

2LT Santegelo argues that women have performed exceptionally well in combat, and uses a few real world examples, but in so doing she confuses the issue like everyone else.  The examples she gives all revolve around point A – Should women be allowed in combat, whereas she failed the Infantry course because of point B – She couldn’t physically handle the tasks of the MOS.   As I said earlier, it’s not a question of courage, judgment, or leadership.  It’s a question of strength.  Humping a rucksack in the Hindu Kush at 13,000 feet is hard, demanding work, and that work has nothing to do with pulling a trigger.  But maybe the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course standards are “unnecessarily high”.  Maybe that course has been knocking the males about for no damn good reason for years.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, GEN Martin Dempsey, is on record saying that if enough females fail any combat occupational standard, that standard would have to be justified as necessary.  Getting rid of the brutal first 48 hours of the Marine Infantry course is one way to solve the problem, but unfortunately, the true standard is Infantry combat, on a two-way rifle range, and that is unforgiving.

I know people will say I’m simply “protecting the tab” and trying to keep females out of Special Forces or Infantry, but I’m not.  My fictional character Jennifer Cahill provides a tangible contribution to the realities of the global war on terror that the military currently does not recognize – despite Hollywood portrayals to the contrary.  The Israeli Defense Force is continually bandied about as a model for female integration (which in this case is a little disingenuous precisely because the IDF prohibits females from direct combat roles), and they actually provide a very good example.  In 1973, Sayeret Matkal – the Israelis version of 1st SFOD-D – conducted Operation Spring of Youth, a mission pulled straight out of a Pike Logan novel.  They penetrated Beirut and eliminated three PLO leaders who were responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre.  They infiltrated the stiff security as tourist couples, with half the force dressed as females (because females in Israel don’t do these missions, despite what everyone says).  Now, would you rather try to trick a hostile security force into believing you’re a couple out on a date with a guy who’s wearing a bad wig and a bra stuffed with socks, or a female with skills you trust?  For me, it’s the female all the way.  There is a role for females in combat.

The endstate of this entire effort shouldn’t be about egalitarianism.  It should be about national security.  If including females in military occupational specialties previously banned doesn’t detract from our combat effectiveness, then by all means let’s do so.  But if it does, then let’s have the courage to say so.  Combat alone should not keep females from serving in a job, but by the same token, gender equality, in and of itself, isn’t a strong enough argument to open up every military occupational specialty.  There remains a need for a logical, unemotional appraisal of the best way to secure our nation, regardless of gender.

Because at the end of the day, someone’s life will be on the line, which should weigh more heavily than someone’s career aspirations.

 

By | 2017-12-01T13:55:24+00:00 April 2nd, 2014|Blog, Featured|20 Comments

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20 Comments

  1. Sam April 2, 2014 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    As a former member of the United States Army (in both Combat and Non-Combat assignments) I was able to serve with many Soldiers. Some good, some great, and some who just couldn’t make the grade. My personal experience with Females in the Army leads me to believe that you hit the nail on the head. I estimate that 1 in 50 Female Soldiers that I served with were capable of passing the rigorous physical demands that EVERY Male Solider was required to complete in order to be seen fit for a Combat role. But as you said, they only trained to meet the standard and not to be the very best they could be.

    On that note, If a Female can meet the same standard for a Combat MOS that a Male Soldier can, then let her pick up a rifle and lead, follow or get out of the way.

    RLTW

  2. Hoovi April 2, 2014 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    Great post! Since this issue made headlines recently, I keep saying the most important thing is for standards to remain the same. If women can meet the current standards we have what to discuss. A similar issue is raised in regards to female firefighters. I remember reading (sorry- can’t source it) that towns that began allowing female firefighters lowered their across the board standards so women could pass. That’s not doing anyone a service. When it comes down to it, you need to know the people in these positions can perform. (I post this as a somewhat angry feminist by the way. As you say, certain things cannot be decided based on the end goal of gender equality.)

  3. Mary Ann April 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    I have read your thoughts and really think you are spot on. I cannot see women carrying those packs at such high altitudes. Sure there are many areas where women excel, but the physical ability in some areas is a major problem. I do not think there is that much problem at all. Allow them into the service they are truly qualified for and let the men who can handle the physical capabilities do their job..

  4. Matt April 2, 2014 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Well written (as it should be). This is a great “head slap” article, YES, Women can and have fought in combat in the various roles that Brad has laid out….and if the situation dictates it, could perform in multiple roles. POINT B: the standard is the standard…..even males fall short of it….it is there for a reason. The military is not something that soccer moms sit on the sideline and cheer on “everyone” because “the score” is not important but that every gets to play…..yeah, see how that works (and ask the kids on the field…they are keeping score). The standard is there to ensure the best move forward (again, men fail at it too). Its not about “keeping a certain gender out of a club, its about not lowering a standard. Yeah I know a rant from a broken retired guy that Brad’s brother hazed (yes it was done back then) at The Citadel. Great posting. Enjoy the fact finding trip!

  5. Bruce April 2, 2014 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    I agree with you 100% Brad. We are just built differently. (which personally I love). But don’t you need to visit where gold and was discovered in California for your next book? Keep up the great !

  6. Joanna April 2, 2014 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    I appreciate the way this article was written and how it wasn’t dismissive or chauvinistic like many other columns are. Love the books by the way, Brad.
    Anyways, I thought these articles would be interesting to you.

    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/11/first-3-female-marines-graduate-grueling-infantry-training-course/

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fourteen-women-have-tried-and-failed-the-marines-infantry-officer-course-heres-why/2014/03/28/24a83ea0-b145-11e3-a49e-76adc9210f19_story.html

    I’d also like to add that while the top percentile of women will never have the same potential as the top percentile of men, there are a surprising number of women who could potentially do enough, and probably wouldn’t be lagging at the low end of the spectrum either. The best example I can give would be women in crossfit, because I can’t think of any other movement that pushes women to lift heavy weight and go far without coddling women or reinforcing the idea that we can’t do as much, so we shouldn’t even try. These women can bust out dozens of pull ups and flip tires like nobody’s business

    Also, when people bring up the 80 lb rucksack argument, the general image conjured up is a fit female 5 foot something marine. That’s a pretty average woman in the military. When I think of women in combat, I think of the six foot tall woman who actually does strength training regularly (because, let’s face it, did those soldiers who couldn’t do three pull ups ever do any serious strength training?) This woman isn’t ‘average’, but she exists. I think the military should open up the door for this kind of woman to give it her all and see if she’s good enough. And maybe it would be nice if, instead of pandering to this “women are weak” mentality, the military should toughen up and make women do some real exercise. We’re more capable than even we’d think.

    Hope what I’m saying is actually making sense. I tend to be long winded. I just want the door to be open for women, and our standard to be raised, not lowered. The last thing women need to be is patronized by the brass so they can meet their PC quota. Maybe then we’ll see what we’re really capable of.

    Okay. Now I’m really done. XD

  7. Joanna April 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    http://blog.usni.org/2014/01/03/the-frailty-myth

    Found this right after I posted, and it says all I wanted to say about strength standards. I think I may have veered off track from the point I was trying to make to begin with, but whatever. One more link, for posterity!

  8. Linda O'Dell April 2, 2014 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    You succinctly and descriptively identify the issues I have seen and concerns I have about males and females in the same roles and jobs. I love Pike and Jennifer (and all the team with their adventures); one reason is because they all have their strengths and know how to think as well as act outside the box. THANK YOU for being so clear while speaking on a difficult sociological issue. Prayers for safe journey and enjoy your research trip!

  9. Cathy April 2, 2014 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    Great post. I think you have hit it perfectly, somethings women just are not physically capable of doing.

  10. Mike April 3, 2014 at 12:52 am - Reply

    Point C. Are we as a civilization prepared to expose military women to the brutality and savagery of terrorist in the name of “fairness”. Hasn’t Daniel Pearl and Amb. Stevens taught us anything? The possibility of a female capture and torture is beyond my grasp. An unconventional war against a depraved enemy is not the time to experiment with our past successes.

  11. Rachell April 4, 2014 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    At last, an opinion on this topic based on LOGIC proffered by someone who knows what they are talking about, who does not have an ax to grind and backs up their opinion with facts — thank you so much Brad!

    I have never served in the military and so, while I was thrilled to hear combat roles were now open to women, was unsure what this meant (are only infantry and special forces classified as ‘combat’?) and how physical these roles really were. For example, if a woman in great shape was the best sniper in the world, (I obviously read too much fiction :), shouldn’t she be allowed on certain special forces ops even if she didn’t meet all the physical requirements — as long as she can keep up with the rest of the team?

    I listened to many of the arguments for and against women in combat, but so many of these were based on emotion and assumptions instead of actual facts that while I still felt women should be offered combat roles, was unsure if they should be held to the same physical standard as men. Thank you so much for giving your opinion based on personal experience and facts!!!! While I still feel women should be offered the same opportunities as the men, they should be held to the same physical standard.

    However, I’m still curious about how situations are handled when a woman is needed for a specific role within a combat mission (either as an active combatant such as a sniper or as a honey trap who is also a good soldier). The reason I bring this up is that I’m questioning the definition of ‘combat roles’. Are combat roles in the military only defined as infantry and special forces? While I agree most women can not physically meet the requirement to join the infantry or special forces (I have to believe there are at least few who could make it :), aren’t there some combat roles that while still physically demanding, place more importance on skills women can excel in?

    • Brad Taylor April 5, 2014 at 4:11 am - Reply

      No, combat roles are much more than just infantry or SF. Currently, “Combat roles” are defined by the department of defense based on a weird 1994 exclusion rule that came out of the Pentagon, which reads, “Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”

      Direct ground combat is defined as, “…engaging the enemy on the ground with individual and crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force’s personnel. Direct ground combat takes place well forward on the battlefield while locating and closing with the enemy to defeat them by fire, maneuver, or shock effect.”

      So, at the end of the day, a lot of positions below the brigade level in the Army and Marines are excluded, such as Combat Engineers, Field Artillery, and Armor (tanks). Basically, if your mission is specifically to harm the enemy, then if you’re a woman, you can’t be in that unit below the Brigade level. Note, this INCLUDES non-combat MOS, such as a supply clerk or mechanic. Because the exclusion was based on unit size, only male supply clerks could serve in the Infantry below the brigade level, and only male mechanics could work on tanks below the brigade level. BUT, since it’s direct GROUND combat, a lot of other roles that do, in fact, directly engage the enemy, were not excluded, such as fighter pilots in the Navy or Airforce or attack helicopter pilots in the Army.

      Hope this helps.

      • Rachell April 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm - Reply

        Thank you so much for responding – especially with such good information! After reading your response, it seems to me there ARE combat roles women could fill where they do not need the strength of a man (but still need to pass physical standards) — especially with how fluid the front lines are in today’s world.

        I know I’m an idealist, but maybe someday they will update their definitions to NOT specifically exclude women and allowing them in as long as they meet the physical/mental requirements and are the best candidate for the role. Yes, I understand this would mean very few (if any) women would make it into the elite forces, but at least their entry would be based on their qualifications and not because they have a uterus. (And this is coming from the woman who, instead of running from the enemy, would rather stay behind and die stalling them so my buddies can get away — only because I’d rather die as a hero in battle then from the heart attack I would get while trying to run from the enemy 🙂

  12. jenniferstgiles April 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Awesome as always, Brad. Just as you did in the gun-banning issue after mass shootings, you cut through the mud and bring clarity and reason to political controversy. Wish your blog had national exposure to the mainstream.
    You and your novels are appreciated. Looking forward to more of Pike and Jennifer’s journey and adventures.

  13. Steve April 17, 2014 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Brad, well done. Logical progression through the issue. One point you made mid-point that I believe to be the crux of the issue in speaking about the combat environment you stated, ” this is not a social experiment…”

    My overarching concern is the political correctness and risk aversion policies in our armed forces. I have been off active duty for some time but I am in contact with old friends and even the son of my best friend (I refer to him as my adopted nephew) who is working on his 9th rotation with the regiment. It is not good (those are my words).

    On a less serious tone, are you really not launching the next Logan book til July? I thought you were “cutting back” a little and writing more??? Just kidding. Looking forward to it coming out.

  14. Dawn Reinhardt May 3, 2014 at 8:10 am - Reply

    As a mom to a 15yr old daughter and stepmother to 2 more grown daughters, I almost didn’t read this blog. I was afraid of more discrimination and nastiness against females but reading your books and knowing you have daughters, I was curious as to your opinion. I have to say that I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone else break it down as simply as you have. I agree that the physical standards need to be enforced and rigid. I know this makes it very difficult for most women to get into certain groups but it’s a matter of safety & getting the job done right. Having the high standards still leaves the door open for those capable of doing the hard work to be able to pass the tests. I don’t even find fault with having the same standards for both sexes ( you have a min. & max u must fall in to pass). For me, as long as the door is OPEN to my daughters should they have the desire, skill & pass the standards, I am good.

  15. Lawrence Cooper May 4, 2014 at 10:00 am - Reply

    I’ve only commanded females in space operations and ICBM Operations units, but I now serve o the Joint Staff and have worked with many capable females over the last three decades.

    I thought Lt Santangelo made very good points. The most important one being that men who failed for the chance to train and try again. As a female she was told move on. That’s inherently discrimatory. Give the females a chance to train and try again. Give the females who want to progress into combat arms the chance to make up the huge difference in their training so that they have a fair shot at Combat Ops. You can’t expect them to make up such a huge gap on their own when their stabdards have been so disparate.

    Then if they fail, they fail. Officers like Lt Santangelo have the capacity to pass the course.

    • Brad Taylor May 9, 2014 at 8:36 am - Reply

      I agree with most of what you say, except for the “huge disparity” part. A. There is a huge disparity in normal Army PT and any Special Forces element, yet nobody talks about how the man trying out was handicapped because he had never yet been expected to meet the standard. B. She was a 2LT. She’d been in the Marines less than a year, and had been through the same training as the men at OCS. It’s not like she’d been under the female physical standards for decades and then suddenly had to switch. On top of that all that was different was precisely the physical standards. The exercises were the same. In my mind, it’s her fault for not making up the difference – as anyone has to do when trying to achieve something beyond the scope of average. It seems like common sense to me: “I want to go into the Infantry. The Infantry has X standards. I will have to meet X standards.” Instead, she just kept using the female standards, then complained that it’s the Marine Corps fault for not preparing her properly. You say I shouldn’t expect females to make up the “huge gap” on their own, but that’s EXACTLY what I expect. Would you say it’s the Navy’s fault when a seaman fails to make it through BUD/S (SEAL) training because the Navy’s ordinary physical standards in no way prepared him for the trials? No, you would say it’s the seaman’s fault for not preparing adequately. Thus, in my mind, saying that about the females perpetuates the same double standards you seek to abolish. In effect, the men can do it on their own, but the females need extra help.

      • Steve Gibbs August 12, 2016 at 3:36 pm - Reply

        Going thru your old blog podtd snd found this and could not pass up the opportunity to comment. As far as women in infantry, I would like to point out that for the last 20 or more years wew have been in atypical fights as compared to the bulk of thr 20th century. The troops are living in patrol bases and go out on patrol and may or may not get in fight. In a few hours they return to the base. The patrol base has some minimal hygiene available. LIfe for a LT of Infantry in 1940s or 1950s was living in a hole in the ground with your RTO. You performed all your body functions in that hole. No latrines, no straddle trench if you were under shell fire.
        An armor officer did the same thing in a slightly cleaner steel box .But if the steel box threw a track it was all hands including the officers job to remount it. A strictdly muscle job. Not to mention lifting those 120mm shells up to the turret to replenish it.
        Question… how was life with the troops on the March to Baghdad?

  16. Sharon Peat Smith December 1, 2017 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    That post is ‘spot on’! As an old WAF veteran nurse, I applaud your stand on this issue. Saving lives and the mission is the top priority, not another stripe or bar. Good for you/

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