During a recent trip to Camp Lejeune, N.C., Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with 15 junior officers at the Marine Infantry School. He asked them about President Obama’s plans to assign women to Army and Marine infantry battalions, Special Operations Forces, and other “tip of the spear” fighting teams that conduct combat assaults.
According to the New York Times, Hagel got an earful. Staff sergeants worried that if women were assigned to combat, the high standards of the Marine Corps would have to be lowered, “family lives would suffer,” and rates of sexual assault and harassment would increase. When Secretary Hagel asked whether it was right to deny the opportunity to a woman who wants to join, a fearless captain replied, “I haven’t met a female Marine who is standing up and shouting, ‘I want to be infantry.’”
This must have been a shock, since the 15 Marines speaking to Hagel were not men; they were women. Similar opposition was registered when Military Times recently conducted an online survey asking active-duty female readers whether they would take a land-combat position if it were offered. Only 13 percent of the military women said yes, 9 percent weren’t sure, and a whopping 77 percent said no, they would not take a combat job.
The House and Senate have gone AWOL on oversight, asking few questions about the consequences of this misguided, radical social experiment, which accelerated when former Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen called for “diversity as a strategic imperative.”
In 2011 the largely civilian Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that women be “included” in currently all-male land-combat units, in order to achieve “diversity metrics,” another name for “quotas.” The concept departs from the military’s honorable tradition of recognizing individual merit — the key to its successful racial integration long before the civilian world.
None of this is necessary. For decades, uniformed women have been promoted as fast or faster than men have. But feminists want a female chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Martin Dempsey should give his seat to a qualified female general. That way, women who serve in the enlisted ranks — the majority of uniformed women — won’t be forced into combat.
The nation is proud of our military women, who have served with skill and courage “in harm’s way” before and after 9/11. Still, no empirical studies show that women can be physical equals of men in combat. Thirty years of tests, studies, and reports comparing male and female physiology have confirmed profound differences that are not going to change.
The Marines have invited 100 female officers to train on the rigorous Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va. To date, six have volunteered, and only one lasted more than a day. Next will come tests of enlisted women on a less-demanding infantry course. Contrary to assumptions that standards will remain the same, footnotes in a twelve-page report that the Marines released in June indicate that “gender-neutral standards” will actually be “gender-normed . . . to account for physiological differences between genders.”
Gender-specific allowances to reduce injuries and improve fitness are acceptable in basic and entry-level exercises. They are not acceptable in training for infantry combat, where lives and missions depend on individual strength, endurance, team cohesion, and trust for survival.
Defense Department leaders say that training programs deemed “invalid” will be eliminated, modified, or scored differently. The goal is not better training; it is “gender diversity.” President Obama will choose new military leaders who will advance the women-in-combat agenda by adjusting tough infantry-training standards. Elite forces will make them “equal” for men and women by lowering them for everyone, or accepting a few token women along with men who otherwise would have washed out.
The argument that combat assignments will reduce sexual assaults is something of a cruel joke. Twenty-two years after the Navy’s Tailhook scandal, women are much closer to the fight, but rates of sexual assault are soaring. Confirmed incidents have increased by 129 percent since 2004, from 1,275 to 2,949. Feminists are making an ironic argument: Violence against women is wrong, they suggest, unless it happens at the hands of the enemy.
There is no major military force, either friend or potential foe, that is even considering what the American military is preparing to do. Placing women on battlefield front lines makes no more sense than “gender diversity” on the gridirons of the National Football League.
This is not about being “allowed” into combat. At a recent hearing, in answer to a question from Representative Loretta Sanchez of California, Marine lieutenant general Robert Milstead observed that you do what you are told to do once you join the military. “That’s why they’re called orders,” he said.
James Robert Webb, a former Marine infantry sergeant, believes combat for women would be unfair. “Plain and simple, if you admit women into the infantry, you must ask them to be men.” Tell us again why this is something good for women.
In June the House missed the opportunity to vote for a reality-based proposal to establish “sound policy for women in the military.” Abundant facts and persuasive arguments were disregarded, as political “fem fear” and perceived self-interest prevailed. Even if there were a “war on women,” the answer would not be to send unwilling women to war.
To show true respect for women, Congress must intervene before incremental plans become irreversible. Members should assert their constitutional authority and work to establish sound policy for women — and men — in the only military we have.
— Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness and a former member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.