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Sustained Ground Combat Units

A Woman's Place?  Only if you wish to risk mission failure

JD Lock, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

25 April 2003


Recent arguments have been advanced that it is now time to remove all gender barriers and integrate women throughout all career branches of the military.  When addressing the ‘women in combat’ question, the discussion generally boils down to four primary issues.


Issue 1: Women lack the mental toughness and courage necessary for combat.  That is a false argument.  Personality, desire, and training are the determining factors, not gender.  Women can and do have what it takes.


Issue 2: Women POWs would be subject to sexual molestation and rape.  That is true. Rape is a weapon.  However, the choice for a woman to potentially find herself in such a situation is her decision to make, not mine.


Issue 3: Women impact adversely on unit cohesion.  There is a degree of truth to this claim, though there are in reality two components to this topic—male/female relationships and privacy.  With any mixing of the sexes, there is always bound to be that aspect of human sexuality that tends to short circuit one’s thought processes (in all honesty, usually a man's) and, thus, potentially impact on a unit’s cohesion or ability to accomplish its mission—something I’d refer to as the ‘Payton Place Syndrome.’  Our Army is, after all, composed primarily of those in their ‘prime’  Add to that the lack of privacy, especially in direct combat units, well, I’m not sure that I’d be very enamored with the image of my wife or daughters sleeping, showering, or relieving themselves with the ‘boys.’  But, then again, who am I to make that choice for a woman.  That aside, good leadership, a strong command environment and quality training can minimize such distracters to the point where a mixed unit can and does function as a cohesive unit.


This leaves us with our fourth and last issue which, in the end, is the deal breaker. 


Issue 4: Women lack the physical strength and stamina for ground combat.  True (for the average woman) and there is no way around this issue.  Where is there equality between men and women in the most physically demanding venues?  Is there physical equality in collegiate or professional sports?  We don’t see women competing with or against men in football, baseball, basketball and track or cycling in the Tour-de-France?  I am still struck by a commercial that Jackie Joyner-Kersee made a number of years ago.  Joyner, regarded as the best all-around female athlete in the world at the time, proudly exclaimed that only 150 men could beat her in the long jump.  “Only 150?”  Sure, she’d beat me by a mile but doesn’t the fact that 150 men could beat the best female long jumper in the world say something about the physical ‘equality’ of men and women?  How many men would beat the second best woman?


Ultimately, it is the US military, itself, that has actually codified this physical incongruity in establishing two significantly different physical training (PT) test standards for men and women.  Just take a look at FM 21-20, Figure 14.1 for the standards.  Taking the age group of 17-21 year olds in the Push-Up requirement for example, to achieve a maximum score men must do 82 repetitions, whereas women are only required to complete 58 modified repetitions.  Furthermore, in order to pass, men must perform a minimum of 42 push ups while women are only required to perform 18.  Interestingly enough, there’s even a handicap on the handicap for women perform push-ups with their knees on the ground.  This inequality even pervades the United States Military Academy, West Point, where men and women receive academic grades based on differing physical standards and curriculum.


So, what’s the point?  The point is that women are exceptionally capable and are an invaluable team member of the US Armed Forces.  In select, direct combat assignments that are not exceptionally physically demanding—such as flying helicopters or crewing warships, they are well suited for their role.  In direct ground combat, however, no degree of political correctness or gender reengineering will change that fact that the battlefield does not offer a double standard based on sex.  Combat is not as much a ‘career’ opportunity enhancer as it is an equal opportunity killer.  If women desire such equality, first eliminate the façade of equality by eliminating the double standard in physical training assessment.  Once that smoke is lifted, we may realize that all is not equal in this world...and that’s exactly the way nature intended it to be.

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