The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

February 25, 2013

Zachary Hubbard | Women in combat unavoidable, unacceptable

— On Jan. 24, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the Department of Defense is eliminating the policy prohibiting women from serving in land combat units. This action will most heavily impact Army and Marine Corps units of the infantry, field artillery, armor, combat engineers and special operations forces (Rangers, Special Forces, etc.).

The commander in chief has spoken, and the announcement constitutes the official Obama administration policy – I get it. But before the fairness, inclusiveness and women’s rights activists get too excited about his decision, everyone should calm down and consider its full implications.

I served as a commissioned officer in the Army for 24 years. My career included tours of duty in light infantry and armored divisions, including service with the 10th Mountain Division in Somalia.

I also served three years as an operations officer in a Marine Corps airborne unit that fought the Iraqis in Kuwait during the Gulf War.

I was trained in mountain, desert and arctic warfare and understand the hardships associated with living in primitive, harsh conditions for extended periods.

I recognize that some women performed exceptionally well when combat was thrust upon them in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the military has had talented female fighter pilots for several years.

I served with many great female soldiers and have no qualms about women serving in combat. It is unavoidable in today’s world.

However, I consider it totally unacceptable to assign women to land combat units whose primary mission is to close with and destroy the enemy.

The president’s decision has been hailed by some as a great victory for women and the nation. No victory, however, comes without a price. We must not allow this decision to be paid for by lowering physical performance standards so women can achieve equity with men.

The bar must be set high, allowing only those women who meet the highest physical standards to serve in previously restricted combat roles. The standards should be tied to performing combat-related tasks, like carrying a wounded soldier 40 yards without dropping the soldier or your personal equipment – helmet, weapon and rucksack.

My hat is off to the commandant of the Marine Corps, who recently approved a directive requiring female Marines to pass the same physical fitness test as males.

While there was no reason given for his decision, it might be related to the fact that two female Marine volunteers who recently participated in a pilot test in which they attended the infantry officer course washed out.   

Anyone who argues that physical differences between the sexes don’t matter hasn’t looked at the number of women (zero, zip) playing in the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.

As in contact sports, size, strength and speed are distinct advantages in close combat. Opponents aren’t separated into weight classes to make the fights fair. Rather, it’s a come-as-you-are brawl where the biggest, strongest and fastest fighters enjoy advantages.

Close combat is dominated by an intelligent, aggressive, brawny, foul-mouthed, foul-smelling, knuckle-dragging, tobacco-spitting bunch of brutes called the infantry.

Few women could fit into this mold.

Mandating equity between the sexes is not enough. If sexual equity is the goal, then fairness dictates that additional measures must be implemented. Otherwise, the policy becomes a farce.

Affirmative action quotas for women in the military should be eliminated. With close-combat units open to them, women will have the same opportunities for advancement as males. There must be no female quotas for promotion boards, command selection boards or boards determining who will attend service schools.

Congress should immediately pass legislation requiring all young women between the ages of 18 and 25 to register for Selective Service. Currently, young men who fail to register face fines up to $25,000 and ineligibility for student financial aid, federal student loans and federal employment.

The minimum height standards for military enlistment should be the same for men and women. If women are to serve in roles previously reserved for men, they should meet the male height minimums.

Military grooming standards for males and females should be the same. There are good reasons for closely cropped hair when living in combat conditions where one might go weeks without a shower. Remember Demi Moore’s haircut in the movie “GI Jane”? Male and female haircut standards should be the same.

Makeup, jewelry and nail polish should be eliminated for women, as well as purses, and stockings. Slacks should replace uniform skirts.

Did I mention that NATO has used common male-female latrines for years? 

Anyone who believes implementing President Obama’s policy will be easy should reconsider. If not done slowly, deliberately and with great forethought, it could plant the seeds for a future American military catastrophe. 

I am convinced that Obama’s decision was incorrect. As George Orwell wrote, “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry this process for an indefinite time: The only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

When it comes to close combat, men and women were not created equal.

Zachary Hubbard is a freelance writer and retired Army officer residing in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

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