EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the December 27, 2004, issue (upcoming) of National Review.
The U.S. Army is quietly making a radical change in its personnel policy that may well see the 3rd Infantry Division redeploy to Iraq early next year with mixed-sex support companies collocated with combat units. The move violates not only Defense Department regulations, but also the requirement to notify Congress when such a change goes into effect.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the military opened a number of specialties to women, permitting them to serve on the Navy’s fighting ships and to fly Navy and Air Force combat aircraft. There were several reasons for this. First, some military women–mostly officers and pilots–and their civilian supporters argued that women could never attain the highest levels of command unless they had the opportunity to serve in combat. Second, there was widespread acceptance of the view that technological advances had completely “changed the nature of war”: Emerging technologies and “information dominance” would reduce the risks inherent in warfighting. If this were the case, why did we need these old restrictions that hampered the progress of women? As former congresswoman Pat Schroeder famously remarked, a woman can push a button just as easily as a man.
Even so, women continued to be excluded from units that engaged in direct ground combat. This prohibition extended to the support units that were collocated with these forces as well.
The indefatigable Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness has discovered that the Army has surreptitiously begun to violate these regulations without advising Congress, which requires notification of any changes to policy within 30 legislative days, and when both houses are in session. Unfortunately, Ms. Donnelly’s longtime commitment to the combat effectiveness of the military is often not matched by that of the very leaders who are responsible for ensuring it. As she has illustrated time and again, no branch of the military is completely free of political correctness.
Right now, for example, the Army is beginning to implement an innovative structural reorganization designed to make its new “units of action” (UAs) more rapidly deployable while maintaining a high degree of lethality. One of the factors enhancing the effectiveness of the original UA concept was that support troops would be collocated with maneuver battalions 100 percent of the time–essentially becoming an organic part of the direct ground-combat units. But if such a forward-support company (FSC) is part of a maneuver battalion, current Defense Department policy says that it cannot include women.
So Army commanders have simply transferred FSCs from the maneuver battalions into “gender-integrated” brigade-support battalions, thereby avoiding the requirement to report the policy change to Congress. Of course, no matter where the FSCs appear on a table of organization, the fact is, they will live and work with the maneuver battalions all the time.
In a letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ms. Donnelly argues that such an incremental alteration constitutes a slippery slope that will lead to radical changes for all land-combat units, starting with the reconnaissance, surveillance, and target-acquisition (RSTA) squadrons of the Army’s Stryker combat teams, and ending with Special Operations forces, and maybe even the Marine Corps.
The Army’s defense of its actions has been disingenuous. On one hand, the Army claimed in May that there were “insufficient male soldiers in the Army to fill forward support companies,” and therefore it “cannot support elimination of female soldiers from all units designated to be UA elements.” But if the Army knew about this back in May, why didn’t it ask Congress for more recruits at the time? One cannot escape the conclusion that the Army’s position appears to be that we don’t have enough young men to fight our wars, so women must be integrated into fighting units by subterfuge and sleight-of-hand.
But then, on the other hand, an Army spokesman recently told Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times that the policy of prohibiting women from serving in units supporting ground-combat formations is outdated. Today, said the spokesman, the threat is “asymmetrical… There is no front-line threat right now” since all soldiers, support or combat, face rocket, mortar, and roadside-bomb attacks, as well as ambushes.
This is arrant nonsense. I’m sure the soldiers and Marines who just took Fallujah would beg to differ with those who claim there is “no front line” in Iraq. The threat they and the support troops collocated with them faced as they carried out their mission of “closing with and destroying the enemy” was qualitatively different from that of support troops not so collocated. Putting women into the vortex of combat so vividly illustrated by the savage fighting in Fallujah would undermine the effectiveness of our ground-combat units by undercutting the unit cohesion critical to achieving victory in war.
Despite recent attempts to redefine it, unit cohesion in combat is far more than mere teamwork. Cohesion arises from the bond among disparate individuals who have nothing in common but facing death and misery. This bond is akin to what the Greeks called philia–friendship, comradeship, or brotherly love.
Despite claims to the contrary, there is substantial evidence that the presence of women in a combat environment fragments unit cohesion. The first reason is traceable to the fact that men and women have radically different bodies. For instance, the female soldier is, on average, about five inches shorter than the male soldier, has half the upper-body strength, lower aerobic capacity, and 37 percent less muscle mass. She has a lighter skeleton, which leads to a higher incidence of structural injuries than for men. She also tends, particularly if she is under the age of 30 (as are 60 percent of military personnel), to get pregnant.
These differences have had an adverse impact on U.S. military effectiveness. Women are four times more likely to report ill, and the percentage of women being medically non-available at any time is twice that of men. If a woman can’t do her job, someone else must do it for her. Only 10 percent of women can meet all of the minimum physical requirements for 75 percent of the jobs in the Army. Women may be able to drive five-ton trucks, but need a man’s help if they must change the tires. Women can be assigned to a field artillery unit, but often can’t handle the ammunition.
The second reason that the presence of women in a combat environment increases friction is that the mixing of the sexes leads to the introduction of eros into an environment based on philia. Unlike philia, eros is individual and exclusive, manifesting itself as sexual competition, male protectiveness, and favoritism.
Those who deny the impact of eros on unit cohesion are kidding themselves. As the eminent military sociologist Charles Moskos has commented, “When you put men and women together in a confined environment and shake vigorously, don’t be surprised if sex occurs.” Mixing the sexes and thereby introducing eros creates the most dangerous form of friction in the military, corroding the very source of military excellence itself: the male bonding necessary to unit cohesion.
Feminists, of course, contend that these manifestations of eros are the result only of a lack of education and insensitivity to women, and can be eradicated by means of education and indoctrination. But all the social engineering in the world cannot change the real differences between men and women, or the natural tendency of men to treat women differently than they do other men. Unfortunately, far too many senior U.S. military leaders have bought into the idea that men and women are interchangeable and that future war will be neat and tidy. Fallujah suggests otherwise. What is the Army leadership thinking by tempting nature in the midst of war?
–Mackubin Thomas Owens is an associate dean of academics and professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He led a Marine rifle platoon in Vietnam in 1968-69.