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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Secretary of Defense Lifts Ban on Women in Combat

Posted by on Wed, Jan 23, 2013 at 12:26 PM

ThinkProgress:

In a surprise move, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta removed the military ban on women in combat on Wednesday. Lifting the ban will open service on the front lines to thousands of women. Some Republicans have opposed putting women in combat because of alleged physical inferiority to men. However, women have unofficially served in combat roles for decades in “female engagement teams” attached to official ground combat units.

 

Comments (28) RSS

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2
Next step: making women register for the draft.
Posted by seeker6079 on January 23, 2013 at 12:48 PM · Report this
3
"Alleged" physical inferiority? Are you kidding? Men ARE physically stronger than women. This is basic biology people. If you're going to make an argument for allowing women in combat situations (and I don't oppose it) at least use valid talking points.

I know I wouldn't feel comfortable going in on the ground unless I thought the soldier next to me could either carry or drag my injured ass out of there. As a woman, I think any female wishing to serve in combat should have to pass the same physical tests as the man beside her. THAT would be true equality.
Posted by letsgetrealhere on January 23, 2013 at 1:11 PM · Report this
4
"Alleged" physical inferiority? Are you kidding? Men ARE physically stronger than women. This is basic biology people. If you're going to make an argument for allowing women in combat situations (and I don't oppose it) at least use valid talking points.

I know I wouldn't feel comfortable going in on the ground unless I thought the soldier next to me could either carry or drag my injured ass out of there. As a woman, I think any female wishing to serve in combat should have to pass the same physical tests as the man beside her. THAT would be true equality.
Posted by scrambledwords on January 23, 2013 at 1:12 PM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 5
@3 I couldn't carry a typical guy's ass 30 yards either, troll.

I'd rather have her beside me than most men:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyudmila_Pa…
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on January 23, 2013 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 6
@2 not really. Canada has women in combat but only men are drafted. Not that they draft you.

Seriously, women are fine in combat. Most weapons systems today are way lighter than the C2 7.62 mm rifle with 6 30 round mags I used to carry in addition to a typical 70 to 120 pound pack as a combat engineer.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 23, 2013 at 1:35 PM · Report this
7
Every American 18 to 26 should have to register for the draft. We can allow the congress with help from the pentagon decide who qualifies for military service and the type of service they are capable of, and lets hope America never has to use the draft!
Posted by jamesnseattle1 on January 23, 2013 at 1:38 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
I'd much rather see all millionaires be subject to the draft, and their adult children.

Far more effective in ensuring wars don't get started for dumb reasons.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 23, 2013 at 2:10 PM · Report this
9
1. Women don't have the same upper body strength as men. Physical differences are real.

2. Women have been unofficially serving in combat for a long effin' time. Hundreds of women dressed as men and served in the Civil War. Some of them did so while pregnant and got caught when they went to the infirmary with a stomachache that turned out to be childbirth. Others didn't get outed until they showed up in their skirts to collect their veterans' pensions. Placing an official ban on women in combat keeps women out of many jobs that they are indeed physically capable of performing.
Posted by DRF on January 23, 2013 at 2:16 PM · Report this
DAVIDinKENAI 10
Women firefighters have fewer injuries on average than men. Using your legs to lift or asking for help from someone else is almost always preferable to muscling your way through.

Some coal and copper mines have reported women-driven trucks (huge, multi-million dollar haul trucks whose tires each weigh vastly more than an SUV) require fewer repairs for not being, literally, man-handled as much.

Obviously the range of skills and strengths of each gender overlap. And yet, while the average man is taller, stronger, and faster; the average woman uses her body and gear more wiser, reads the instructions, and gauges body language more accurately. Since we aren't sending in archers and lancers, but pilots, drivers, and peace keepers, maybe we should reconsider what makes a good soldier.

Further, big and tall isn't always an advantage. With no shortage of soldiers who want to fly planes and drive tanks, why not make them to fit 5-foot humans instead of 6'4" humans? A smaller vehicle is higher performance, a smaller target, and shorter people can handle higher g-forces before blacking out.
Posted by DAVIDinKENAI on January 23, 2013 at 2:41 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 11
@9 technically, when Canada tested fighter pilots, we found that qualified women (e.g. good in math and spatial visualization) were actually better than men at being fighter pilots. So it was hushed up.

(thinking thinking was that declassified ... pretty sure)
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 23, 2013 at 2:48 PM · Report this
DAVIDinKENAI 12
But more broadly, I ponder this widening of military service. Yes, women have been in all wars, but never so overtly. Yes, gays have always served, if not openly. Yes, blacks have always served, but only in integrated units since WWII. Non-citizens used to hired as mercenaries and now they are offered citizenship for their service.

I pause, because maybe having fewer enlisted makes it harder to use them for cannon fodder. On the other hand, when more of society is represented in the military, maybe more of society will hesitate to put them in harm's way.

"Draft the rich" could be a bumper sticker.

A less pithy thought: How about if votes for a military action could only be by those who had served? Or only by those with a currently serving spouse/child?
Posted by DAVIDinKENAI on January 23, 2013 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 13
@10 we found that a team of trained shorter and thinner Canadian male field engineers could build bigger bridges faster than a team of trained bigger and tall strong American male field engineers - because the smaller engineers used their legs to lift. Only place it was different was in driving a sledge to put in a pin and in using a lever bar, but training usually was far more important than upper body strength.

Can you carry a field service weapon in one arm? Sure. Is it a good idea? Rarely. Standing up gets you dead.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 23, 2013 at 2:51 PM · Report this
OOF POOF 14
@12 Service guarantees citizenship!

I T H A S B E G U N N N N
Posted by OOF POOF on January 23, 2013 at 3:01 PM · Report this
15
As a former light infantryman, I personally have no problems with women serving in combat. With this proviso:

No physical requirements for the job should be decreased to accommodate women.

That means being able to carry a 25 lb. machine gun. That means carrying a rucksack that can weigh over 100 lbs. That also means, incidentally, equalizing the standards on the Physical Fitness Test. And that also means a single female soldier needs to be able to carry her male counterpart away from the battlefield if he's wounded.

Any woman who can perform at that level is more than welcome to share my foxhole.
Posted by Corydon on January 23, 2013 at 3:05 PM · Report this
16
Oh and no more "get out of field training free" because it's that time of the month. No more special hygiene arrangements. No more "I need to go home because I'm pregnant."

You want to be treated like one of the boys, you better measure up to that standard.

(And yeah, I'm a little pissy about women invading every single all-male space there is, from infantry units to leather bars. I love you girls, but there's some places that ought to be for guys only)
Posted by Corydon on January 23, 2013 at 3:18 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 17
@15 um, guy, read what I said.

Modern field arms are much lighter, as are the ammo. It's all the batteries and stuff that makes the ruck weigh so much.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 23, 2013 at 3:52 PM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 18
@9 "Women don't have the same upper body strength as men. Physical differences are real."

I don't buy that. If you look at the differences in men's and women's times in Olympic sprint kayaking (mostly upper body) and rowing (mostly lower body), the ratios are the same, indicating that the women are equally different in upper and lower body strength. (Weight lifting would be a better sport to look at, but I'm not interested in it.)

It may be that most women seem *disproportionately* weaker in upper body muscle because you can't avoid significant lower body exercise in the form of personal mobility, and most girls/women self-select out of activities that stress upper body strength, leading to lack of upper body training.
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on January 23, 2013 at 4:10 PM · Report this
harmonyak 19
@18: I think the thought is generally that we (women) have less muscle fibers, so sure, we can get just as strong as the guys, but we have to work harder at it.

I'm thrilled that women are allowed to serve in combat finally. It's about damned time. I do agree with 15-16 that we should be treated equally and the same should be expected of us (although his points seemed a bit...full of vitriol...)
Posted by harmonyak on January 23, 2013 at 4:38 PM · Report this
20
@15 I agree with you, with some provisos: 1. The physical requirements must reflect the realities of the job. (If, for example, lifting 100 lbs over one's head were used as a weeding mechanism to identify only the 20% strongest male applicants, then it's fine to use a comparable number that would identify the top 20% female applicants. If it's the weight of a standard-issue pack, then use the same number for men and women.) 2. If one must lift 100 lbs to become a soldier, then one must also be able to lift 100 lbs to stay a soldier. 3. "I'm going home because I'm pregnant" should fall under the same category as "I'm going home because my body has been altered in a way that makes it impossible or impractical for me to do my job," such as getting injured. (So a pregnant servicemember wouldn't necessarily go home during her first or second trimester.) Yes, pregnancy differs from injury and disease in that it can be voluntary, but that's just a physical reality of being human that we haven't found a way to work around (yet). Many branches of the armed services recommend Norplant for female servicemembers, but it doesn't work for everyone and I can see why requiring it in all cases could be bad.
Posted by DRF on January 23, 2013 at 4:39 PM · Report this
21
My provisos are based on what I saw in uniform.

100 lbs. for a rucksack is on the heavy side. But it's about what I carried into combat exercises as a platoon radio-telephone operator (including the radio, spare batteries, and other gear that everyone carried). I saw some that were heavier. The assistant gunner in a weapons squad (who'd carry the tripod for an M249B plus a lot of its ammunition in addition to his own gear) could get up to about 120 lbs. In particular, I remember a small guy who probably weighed about as much as his own rucksack before we went into a rotation in a training center.

Now granted, leadership should work to minimize the weight that soldiers carry. Running around with all that weight will tax anyone, male or female. But there are situations where it needs to be done, or else you aren't going to eat, or have ammunition (which is a lot heavier than '80s action movies makes it look), or have clean dry socks to protect your feet, etc., etc.

A lot of my concern stems from how the military has handled these things in the past. For instance, the Navy used to require that two sailors be able to carry an injured sailer on a litter. Once women became more widespread in the Navy, that standard was cut to permit four sailors to carry one.

Battlefields are chaotic, difficult and dangerous places. Pulling an injured comrade to safety is something that you can't always assemble a team to do.

I want to be sure that what were doing here is in the best interest of enlisted soldiers. I frankly don't give a flying fuck about officer politics or Pentagon or administration relations with political groups.

This smacks of a political move that will be paid for by guys like me. Now, granted, this country has frankly bent over backwards lately to screw over working class guys, so this is only to be expected.

And as for women supposedly being held back by not being allowed in combat roles, maybe that's true for officers. But I guarantee that being an enlisted infantryman gets you nothing but the satisfaction of doing your patriotic duty.
More...
Posted by Corydon on January 23, 2013 at 5:20 PM · Report this
22
So proud to live in a nation where not only homosexuals, but also women, can kill and die for corporate profits!
Posted by LML on January 24, 2013 at 4:16 AM · Report this
smajor82 23
@6 - The fact that Canada doesn't have women register for the draft doesn't change the fact that they ought to. I hear a lot about how women can't get promoted into senior because they can't get the types of assignments that allow that - namely combat assignments - and I agree 100% that anyone regardless of gender, who meets some physical requirement ought to be able to do the job. But if the goal is really gender equality, then we need to push for actual equal treatment. That means registering women for the draft.
Posted by smajor82 on January 24, 2013 at 5:35 AM · Report this
24
I think that before the military begins attempting to integrate more women into the services, the issue of protecting them from rape by their male counterparts needs to be better addressed.

While I don't know how things are in the US military, as an infantryman, I see it being a difficult road towards full integration. Here in Israel, we have a few integrated units, but they are not equal to the male only combat units. While I have total respect for the women who serve there and their efforts, it has to be recognized that there are differences. This doesn't even take into account the personal issues regarding sex between members of those units. I have a friend who met her husband there so I guess that it does work out for the best sometimes. I don't know what the rules are for US soldiers in regards to fraternization, but it is something to be considered. All the issues that I listed above are not intended to deny women the recognition that they deserve for what they have put in over the years. They are just concerns that should be addressed as the military moves forward.
Posted by Doobie50 on January 24, 2013 at 7:44 AM · Report this
DAVIDinKENAI 25
@24: "This doesn't even take into account the personal issues regarding sex between members of those units."

Do you know that you are writing a comment on a thread in Dan Savage's blog in the Stranger?!?

Suddenly, now that women might be in combat positions, sex between members of a unit becomes an issue? Because there's never been any sex between men in the military? And male and female military office workers would never hook up?

All branches of the military already have policies on fraternization. In certain settings, it is allowed. In other settings, and in any command/subordinate situation, it is not.

Change scares a lot of people. One response is to wave ridiculous red flags - dating, rape, and the ultimate fallback argument, "unit cohesion". That can (and has) been used against blacks, gays, and women.

Rape is horrible. Duh. But it is not new to war or limited to women soldiers. Not all captured American men have their genitals left alone by their captors. Not all combatants captured BY Americans have their genitals left alone by their captors.
Posted by DAVIDinKENAI on January 24, 2013 at 9:46 AM · Report this
26
It's really irrelevant whether women as a group are weaker or stronger than men. Determine fair and objective tests for combat fitness (and, no, not the fire-department-style "tests women can't pass but fat white guys with seniority don't have to take" tests) and apply them. If 99% of women fail, tough shit; the other 1% don't have affirmative action whining thrown at them.
Over the years I have found, as a group, that service people are generally the most likely to focus on the job rather than the person doing it, and this emphasis goes up as you start to move into elite units like light infantry or submarines. If you're good at what you do then you're Unit, and that is that. It's the chair-coasters who tend to get more upset by these things.
Posted by seeker6079 on January 24, 2013 at 10:09 AM · Report this
27
@15 and @17: The decreasing weight of the weapon and ammo themselves is almost irrelevant: as a general rule the reduction in the weight of a given rifle or its cartridge results in more ammo being carried, resulting in the same weight carried by the individual infantryman.

One of the things I find interesting is that the weight of the average groundpounder's burden has changed very little for over two millenia: it was for the hoplite and is for a 2013 rifleman about (generally, and on average) about sixty pounds. [Source (from memory, sorry): Keegan's A History of Warfare.]
Posted by seeker6079 on January 24, 2013 at 1:09 PM · Report this
debug 28
A lot of the comments, especially negative ones, focus on the physical differences between male and female.

The thing to remember is this move today is simply allowing women in, not a quota system, and there are certain jobs were women are still not cleared; probably involves some of those pure-strength jobs.

She made the point that in Iraq she, and many other women, have already been serving in combat zones but couldn't be recognized for that service officially, which blocks their chance for promotion.

Anyway, its a good move.
Posted by debug on January 24, 2013 at 6:01 PM · Report this

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